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Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: January 19, 2:04 AM ET
Leafs GM Dave Nonis is on the clock

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

Dave Nonis, Brian Burke
Dave Nonis is finally getting a chance to prove himself after being Brian Burke's left-hand man.
TORONTO -- The job title has changed, but not his actual office.

Here on the 15th floor of the Toronto Maple Leafs offices Thursday, Dave Nonis still sits at the same desk in the same office despite the promotion to GM eight days ago.

It's not clear whether he'll make the move down the hall to the corner office, where the GM usually sits.

"I don't know, might just stay where I am, I'm fine here," Nonis said as he sat down for an interview with ESPN.com.

Besides, he adds, why waste half a day moving his stuff down the hall when there's so much work to be done?

He hit the ground running last Wednesday after being apprised of the stunning news. His friend and mentor Brian Burke was being fired as GM, and Nonis was taking over.

For some right-hand men, that would have been an overwhelming challenge right before a season was about to start. But Nonis was not your average right-hand man, he was a quasi-GM under Burke, a very senior hockey man with lots of responsibility in the day-to-day operation.

And so the GM duties in the Toronto operation weren't all new to him.

"It's not a lot different but it's more of it," said Nonis, whose deal was tweaked to reflect a new job description, while his term remains this season plus three more years. "We had split a lot of the work up. Brian had delegated a lot of things to me. Obviously, now that I'm in the position myself, there's more to do. But it's not unfamiliar."

He's already got a trade under his belt, moving center Matthew Lombardi, 30, to Phoenix on Wednesday night for a conditional fourth-round pick, and then making the difficult decision to place center Tim Connolly, 31, on waivers Thursday. One can easily surmise from both those moves that it's about making room for youth.

"Yes," said Nonis. "At some point they have to be given an opportunity to sink or swim if they've earned that opportunity. Our farm team has performed to a high level for close to two years now. A lot of those players are young players. If they play better than some of the veterans, even for a short time, they have to be given an opportunity."

The question is, has the plan changed now with Nonis at the helm?

"The destination hasn't changed, but maybe the road to get there has altered somewhat," said Nonis.

"I'm not going to give up youth for older players," he added. "We would trade a young player for a young player. We might trade from strength. But we're not going to trade a bunch of young players or first-round picks for short-term gain. You can't build a club that way. There's a point in time where you're good enough and deep enough where you can look at doing some of those things -- we're not there. And if we start to do that, we're going to end up being severely hampered in the development process of our club."

Just the mention of first-round picks is still a sensitive subject in these parts after Boston got a pair of them (which became Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton) from Burke in exchange for Phil Kessel. Mind you, Kessel has been a consistent producer since arriving and his performance certainly can't be questioned.

But Nonis is saying he is indeed going to go about this a bit differently. He's not going to sacrifice the future for a short-term gain. And that's been the biggest mistake of nearly every GM who's ever sat in his chair, the lure of ending the 45-year Stanley Cup drought so difficult to ignore that Toronto's managerial history is littered with short-term thinking.

To Burke's credit, he left the Leafs much deeper in terms of organizational depth.

Nonis wants to continue to add to that depth and build through youth. He points to his days as GM in Vancouver as an example.

"We made a decision at a certain point there, too, that we had to get younger and bring certain youth into the lineup," he said. "A lot of those players that we started to look at are still playing there. You have to give those players a chance to develop and grow.

"It's not a one-year shot. It's a long-term process where the team can be competitive for a certain number of years, and the most successful teams in this league have done that."

His experience in equally hockey-crazy Vancouver should serve Nonis well here, including the lessons he took with him from his first NHL GM job.

"Similar markets, which I think is a positive," said Nonis. "Both are great hockey markets with passionate fans. I think I learned from the first one that if you believe that you're right, stick with it. Because ultimately it will bear fruit. I think that was the case in Vancouver, we stuck with the plan and they've had a pretty good team there for a number of years. We feel that the same thing has to happen here. We've got a significant number of building blocks in place. We need to add more of them, but at the end of the day you have to have those blocks or you're not going to have success. We're going to have to have patience to let them grow and develop."

Don't confuse patience, however, with an unwillingness to be aggressive on the trade front.

Toronto's goaltending issues last season were well-documented -- the Leafs were 29th in goals against -- and while Nonis professes to be a believer in James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, it's clear the new GM has been doing his homework and is ready to act if a deal presented itself.

"We would upgrade our goaltending by the weekend if we could do it without taking away significant pieces," Nonis said. "It's not that we wouldn't upgrade. But for what's out there right now, we would set our team back, especially in the long term. And, we don't believe we have two goaltenders here that are not capable. We believe we have two capable goaltenders. Do we think they're NHL-caliber? The answer is yes, there's no question about that. The only question we have, and that people have, is the experience factor. And that's fair. You can't sit there and say we have two experienced goaltenders because we don't. That's one area we would like to improve -- an experienced goalie that can play. At this point, there hasn't been a price reasonable enough for us to act on it."

The worst-kept secret in hockey is that Toronto and Vancouver have had an on-again, off-again dialogue regarding Roberto Luongo since June. And while Nonis was obviously careful not to name names nor teams in his comment above, clearly what he's saying is that unless/until the Canucks lower their asking price for Luongo, there won't be a trade.

It's also believed that that the Leafs have kicked the tires on Jonathan Bernier in Los Angeles.

Regardless, Nonis is adamant he won't make any moves that will set this team back long term.

When asked if that can perceived as him asking poor, battered Leaf Nation for yet more patience, Nonis had an interesting answer.

"Am I asking the fans to be more patient? Not really, because I understand what they've gone through," he said. "We've got fantastic fans. I don't think you ask the fans to be patient. But we have to be. We have to be. It's up to us to try to put together a team that can win and win for a long time. Our ownership group has made it clear what they want: a winning team that can win for a very long time. They've been very supportive and given us all the resources, we have everything we need here to try and put together a winning team. But we're going to take the time that we need to allow these players to grow. If we can make moves that will fast-track it, we will, but not at the expense of first-round picks and good, young players."

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