While many Leafs are back for another season, the past is truly being left in the past in the eyes of new Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock.
“Have I seen these players play? Absolutely “I know the Red Wings, Lou (Lamoriello) knows the Devils, I don’t know the Leafs, Lou doesn’t know the Leafs. But, we’re going to get to know ‘em.”
Every player is going into the camp with a clean slate. While there is some data that could be used from past seasons to assess a player, it is being thrown out the window. It got to the point where if a reporter referenced a player’s history in Toronto, Babcock immediately interjected by saying “not with me.”
The best example Babcock cites is the competition in goal. Jonathan Bernier is the incumbent number one while James Reimer will be pushing the case to get more starts. Whichever goalie gets more starts is expected to see less rubber according to Babcock.
“Somebody’s got to grab it, they put in their work and I know they both want to be number one, lets watch and see who it is. We’re going to get organized in our own zone so they know where the shot is coming from, they can be there and be square. This brand of goaltending where they’re thinking there are four different guys shooting the puck, that’s impossible.”
Toronto ranked second worst in the league in average shots against last season with 33.5.
In a season that has seen a lot of changes, there are many questions to ponder. Who will score in the absence of Phil Kessel, who was moved in an offseason trade with Pittsburgh for Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling, Scott Harrington and first and third round draft picks? How will the defence make the jump to keeping the puck out of their own zone? How long will the build take to playing the right way?
The only thing on the front of Babcock’s mind is putting the players to work in order to play the correct way.
“When our D understand how supportive our forwards are going to be it’s going to make them happy.”
Dion Phaneuf is back as captain of the blue and white. Babcock has high expectations in how Phaneuf will perform, acknowledging that he carries a lot of responsibility wearing the ‘C’.
“We’re going to give him a day off per week from you guys for sure. We’re going to look after him, I think he’s going to have a real good year.”
The Leafs will kick off training camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’ll be a real departure away from the home city and the team bonding will get started right off the hop. The thinking there is having the players get to know each other and get to bed early so they are ready to work the next morning. It’s the work ethic that Babcock is most trying to instill in his new team.
Friday, it all starts happening for real. But it’ll take a while for the proper brand of hockey to get established.