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Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello sees 'light at end of tunnel'

TORONTO -- With the season a little less than a month old, the Toronto Maple Leafs have one win in eight games, but that doesn't measure all that veteran general manager Lou Lamoriello is taking into account.

As the Leafs begin their rebuild, Lamoriello in his first season running the historic franchise is looking beyond just the wins and losses.

Even though it grates at him to lose.

"I feel real good about everything that I've seen," Lamoriello said Wednesday. "Certainly coming in here without any preconceived notion, just about everything was in place, whether it be the staff or whether it be the players. So I have a pretty good seat to be completely objective. There's no question that the plan is in place, and the process is going to be consistent, and each and every one of us are in the same thought process. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's going to take a little time. But I think that the most important thing right now is exactly what is needed first: a foundation in all areas that will be philosophically who the Leafs are. Whether that's on the ice, whether that's off the ice, no matter which way you look at it. That's what I maybe feel the best about in a very positive direction in all areas."

Which is to say, while the team isn't winning, the manner in which head coach Mike Babcock is going about it is what Lamoriello believes will build that foundation, both on and off the ice.

"Mike, without question, and his staff, he's the perfect person to get this to go in the right direction," Lamoriello said. "His preparation, his consistency, his communication, it's unwavering. If you're going to ask people to be committed and dedicated, then you've got to do it. Players see that. There's not much players miss. I think every one of these players here understands what the price is to win and how to do things. I haven't seen anyone not buying into it. But when you're not used to doing things all the time, sometimes there's some bumps and you get off track. And I think it'll get there, without question."

A season ago, the Leafs were actually 19-9-3 on the morning of Dec. 17. It was a surprising first two months but many felt it was smoke and mirrors based on how they were winning those games.

This season they're 1-5-2, and yet one could argue they are battling the right way -- aside from Monday's lackluster effort against the Arizona Coyotes -- in terms of better puck possession and the style of play under Babcock. This season, they're at 53.9 percent Corsi For, up dramatically from last season's 46.4 percent.

"Way more structured, like way, way more," said a team executive from a rival Eastern Conference squad when asked Wednesday about the Leafs. "More disciplined. The goaltending hasn't been good enough so far.

"They're not a very good team on paper, but Babcock is instilling the right framework. I like the idea of their big-term plan, but they need to execute it. Drafting and developing is so huge. I like what I'm seeing so far. But will they stick with it?"

Well, that's always the question with the Leafs, isn't it? Lamoriello reiterated Wednesday his commitment to this process, knowing what that entails.

In the meantime, the question is just how many players on this roster are actually going to make it back next season. The players themselves will decide their fate.

"Everybody has been given every opportunity to surface," said Lamoriello. "Right now, you start seeing things that surface where either they're consistent, or inconsistent, or they can't handle adversity, or they can't handle pressure, or they can. I think for both of us, Mike and I, not knowing these people for what they had been through, giving them all a clean slate, they determine what their future is and whether they want to be part of it here. Decisions will be made accordingly.

"In the meantime, the development of the younger players [in the AHL] is going on. But don't misinterpret that: The commitment to winning every night is there. It's never going to be easy when it doesn't happen, but the work ethic is something that's unwavering. It has to be done each and every night. You want things done right, not just sometimes, but all the time."

One Leafs player said recently that what he appreciated the most about Babcock's style was that everyone was being treated equally. The rules were the same for everyone.

Lamoriello said that's how it must be.

"What you have to do, and it's certainly my belief, is that you treat every player exactly the same, but you handle them differently because of their personalities, whether you want to admit that or not," said Lamoriello. "You can go back to your own children: You have to handle them differently, but you treat them the same. And I think that's what is consistent, that's what Mike does and that's what has to happen throughout this organization; that there's a foundation, there's everybody going in the same direction. That has to be in every aspect of it, whether it be scouting, whether it be administration; it's how things are done, how we act, all of that stuff. Once you get that, then you can handle bumps a lot better, you can handle some disappointments a lot better and you can come back a lot quicker. And I think that's what is happening here.

"The process of building a team isn't going to change: We've got to find out who the players are that are here that can be part of winning, that can be part of the future."

All the while, Leafs management sent the likes of William Nylander and Connor Brown to the AHL before the season, because they felt that was the best place for them to develop at this point, even if they had training camps that warranted they make the NHL squad.

"The younger players that we have in the minors -- there's no question in my mind there's between five to seven players on the Marlies that will play in the NHL -- it's the right time to put them in an environment where they will succeed," Lamoriello said. "That's the key, having people in an environment where they can succeed. I think that's what this whole process is about. There are going to be times where you take a bit of a step back to go forward; not taking steps back, period. You take them back only to go forward. All of that is what's in place."