Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock spoke to the media following the Leafs' final practice before Wednesday's home opener against the Montreal Canadiens. Here's what he had to say...
A few good practices with good tempo heading into the opener tomorrow?
Yeah, I think obviously we're making progress and guys are understanding where they're supposed to be and how they're supposed to do it. Now we've got to get our competition level at a high enough level to compete and obviously limit your mistakes. I thought in exhibition we did lots of good things but we still made mistakes so the fewer of those we make the better off you are.
What do you like about Dion Phaneuf and where do you think he can grow his game?
I think the biggest thing with Dion is he's a good man and he treats people right and he wants to be good. To me the moral fibre of a person is so important and when your captain is a good person you're off and running. To me, just some of the angles he takes, that'll show his feet being way better than they show right now. I think the thing is he's working on his play around his own net defensively but to me the biggest deal is getting back and getting pucks going by skating forward. By taking the right angles he'll be able to do a better job. Obviously he's got the big shot and he can step up in the neutral zone and stuff like that but I think just getting his feet going in the right direction is really going to help him. I'm very confident he's going to have the best year he's had in a long time.
Have you determined what the personality of this team is?
No I have no idea. I'm going to know way more here after three games, even better after four practices, but we're going to get so we're organized and we're going to get so we're very hard working and that we're in it together, night in and night out. We're going to be a hard group to play against and make it hard on teams. How long is that going to take? I don't know the answer to that question. I just know we're going to work on getting better each and every day. I think things are positive, I like our group and I like what we're doing.
What is the philosophy behind having players on one-year contracts over young players?
I just watched camp and we made decisions based on now and the future of our organization. We felt that was the best for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
What do you know about Frank Corrado?
I watched him yesterday and did some background work. I watched him yesterday on tape and did some background work through people that know him way better than me. Right hand shot, young guy, skates, moves the puck, I thought he played well in the games with Vancouver when I was watching yesterday. We can help him with his puck retrievals and his exits as well. Another young guy trying to make our club better.
What did Panik not do?
I don't think you go about it that way. What you do is you say, "can we improve our roster in any way?" Richard's a good man who worked hard and tried hard and we're just in a position where we feel we can help our back end so we're going to try it.
How long do you think it'll take this team to play the way you really want?
I don't know that, I know we've got a game tomorrow and I expect to win.
What excites you about the start of a new season around the League?
Well, I mean, hope. There's 30 teams that are at home right now hoping, thinking everything is rosy. Every team thinks they've got some young guys that are really good and veterans that trained real hard going to have a good year. We're all going to watch and find out. We find out at the same time, I don't think any of us are shocked by it, but there's hope. For me, it's very exciting, it's a new opportunity. I don't know a lot of things that I would normally know this time of year but I think that's exciting too.
Is it accurate to say that this team is in a transition right now?
I don't even know what that means, I think every team in the League is in transition at the start of the year every year because of the fact that you don't know what you have. You think you have something but you don't know, you're working on it. Some teams have more returning players than we do or more proven veterans than we do but I feel we've added lots of players to our team, we're trying to improve our roster on a daily basis and improve the way we play. We'll just keep plugging at it.
Do you feel like it was easier for the young players to develop with the Marlies?
We have, in my opinion, in Kapanen, Hyman, Brown, Nylander, four real good — Soshnikov too, but because of his English he didn't get himself in the mix — but those guys to me are all guys that can play on the Toronto Maple Leafs eventually. If someone else was here maybe they would have put them on the team, I don't know the answer to that question. I just know — I'm going to answer the same way I did a few minutes ago — we tried to do the best things for the Maple Leafs now and in the future.