Leafs head coach Mike Babcock spoke to the media on Monday during his visit to the Maple Leafs Hockey School presented by Rogers. Here's what he had to say...
Who's easier to coach, kids or NHLers?
To tell you the truth, you've got to be more organized to coach kids but there are some other issues in the National League.
Did you think it was time for Phil Kessel to move on?
Well basically what we did right from the get-go, we've talked about building a program that can contend year after year after year. So, when you evaluate your group and see what you have to do, you make decisions and stick with your plan. Obviously Phil is a great player, a dangerous, dangerous guy. He's going to a situation where there's two elite centres, he's going to have the opportunity to score and Sid's going to be the guy there, there's no question about it. We're in a situation that we're acquiring picks and prospects we like. We like Kapanen, we like Harrington, we like the picks. We need to load up the picks and give Hunts (Mark Hunter) every opportunity he can so we can build a franchise here and that's what we're going to do.
What do you hope to see and learn at prospect camp?
To be honest with you, what I'm going to do is talk to them about how they deal with the media, I'm going to talk to them about being a good human being and nutrition, we're going to talk to them about strength training and doing it right. That's way more important to me than what they do on the ice. I'll see what they do on the ice here in the fall. I'm always one with prospect camp who's — you're supposed to train all summer and come out here and grind some hip flexors, I'm much more interested in the fall. To me it's about building a program. Like I said to you, it's about being a good human being, living and eating right, training right and handling the media right. Those things all set you up for success.
What kind of expectations do you have for Nazem Kadri?
I expect him to be an elite player. His training has got to match his skillset, that's to all of our guys. You can't take the summer off. You've got to get to work. I expect our best players to be our hardest working people and set the tone, flat out. I've told them all that, they understand that and that's what they need to do. This is a big two and a half months for all of them.
Was that the case in Detroit?
No question. Datsyuk, Kronwall and Zetterberg are great leaders and it's not what they say, it's what they do every day on and off the ice. They come to work. That's the challenge for our guys. All you've got to do is look at who wins all the cups here lately — Jonathan Toews and his crew. Jonny does it right.
What do you know about the free agents?
They were guys we acquired because we feel they can help our program. Most guys that we've signed are to short term deals so we get to watch them, they get to watch us and we can decide whether we're a fit going forward. I thought we did a lot of good things, we've increased our forward depth, a bit on the back. We still need to over time. We have to find a marquis D to help us out for sure and we'll do that when the time is right.
What does it say that Kadri only got a one-year deal?
I think it's a home run for him. He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and then put the screws to us. Why wouldn't he? If I'm him and I'm going to have the best year of my career because I'm training the way I should and living the way I should, why wouldn't I have a short term deal? ... I think what we did was, he negotiated, we negotiated and we came to an agreement that both parties are satisfied with and we'll move along. All I know is that when you're a player and you play well, it doesn't matter how long your deal is, you're just going to get paid.
What kind of lines have you put together in your head?
I said to my coaches last night — did we announce any more signings yet today? Ok, I won't announce it then — after we signed last night, what we did was I sent out to them again and gathered information. You do it all summer on a napkin, you watch the first exhibition game, you don't like what you had on the napkin all summer and you change it. That's just part of the process.
Are you able to get around the city without people mobbing you?
I walk my dog down around the water and people were fine. I haven't lost any games here yet.
Why is it important for you to get out and do these types of community events?
That used to be me right there, I said to someone this morning, I remember all of my minor hockey coaches like it was yesterday... these guys were all good people that helped me along the way. So, you don't get to work in the game like I do every day of your life without somebody helping you. This school, sure you're trying to help them with their skillset but you're trying to increase their love of the game. That's your number one priority for a week like this in the summer.
How do you feel about being tied to people saying they 'BeLeaf again'?
Well, I mean, let's not get carried away. What I'm going to do is I'm going to get up every day and work as hard as I can and then I'm going to go home, love my wife and my family and come back and do it again the next day. It's real simple for me. This is a process. We're not going to deviate. We know where we want to go. I've known Shanny (Brendan Shanahan) for a long time, I'm real confident that he's a man with a plan and he's going to stick to it and I plan on helping him.
Do you expect any of the core players to move now that the first move (Kessel) is done?
I don't think that was the first move at all, I think there was a number of moves with the management team before we worried about anything on-ice. Sometimes we get confused in this business with on-ice product when the teams that have success have a great off-ice product, a great management team that has a plan, sticks to a plan and leads by example and then they fix the on-ice product. We're just going to go about the day-to-day and we're always looking for a way to improve our team. We understand we have a long way to go. We're excited about the process and our fans should be as well.