Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock held his end-of-season media availability on Sunday afternoon. Here's what he had to say...
I'd just like to thank you all for the coverage. People don't think this all the time but obviously there's no pro sport without the media and without the fans. As much as you're under the microscope sometimes in the National Hockey League, I think specifically in Toronto and some of the big markets, what helps make your franchise great -- we're in control of how positive the message is and not you people. When we have the product that we're going to have that you're going to be writing about, things are going to be very positive. I appreciate your time and your efforts and you do a good job.
How close do you think this team is to making the playoffs?
I guess the way I look at it, I don't even think like that. I know we're going to get there, I just don't know what the timeline is. We're just going to keep getting better. I really liked a lot of the things that happened this year. I like a lot of our kids. What happens to the Marlies in the next little while affects what happens to us next year. They have talent. Are they a team that's really going to dig in and find a way to win? Because that leads to winning. I don't know the answer to that. What happens at the draft, I don't know the answer to that totally. What happens with free agency, I don't know. What I would tell you is we're miles ahead of where we were, both in our cap situation and in our development of players and the amount of players we have. Last fall when we were trying to put a team on the ice, we didn't have enough players for the 23 spots on the team. What you want to have is too many players for the 23 spots on the team, that's how you get better, that's how you create competition. That leads to you having a chance. Now, when you go through it and you look at the goals-for and goals-against, it appears to me if you give up 210 and you get 225 you're going to get in. And so we have a lot of work to do in those areas. We have to make sure we have enough goals on paper prior to the start of the season for that to happen. But, obviously, no different than anyone else here, I'm optimistic we've made great changes and we're going in the right direction.
Was the opportunity to see the kids come up a great opportunity for you as a coach and Lou as a GM?
I don't think anybody went in to the season thinking we were going to win the Cup. I think expectation and knowing what you get yourself into allows you to have the right attitude every day, allows you to work hard and understand. Now, obviously I've got to tell you I enjoyed this year very much. My relationship with Lou is spectacular. He's a really, really good man and it's fun to be around him. That goes for Shanny as well and our people here I've been impressed with. We're put together, I think, a really good sports science team, a good coaching staff, the Marlies coaching staff and management group there have done a real good job. I like all of those things. Let's be honest, some nights on game night is wasn't as much fun as it's been in the past, but the attitude, the effort, the commitment to doing things right was spectacular I thought. I like the group of people we have moving forward.
What were you most proud of this season?
Someone asked me yesterday, 'You finished last, is your name all over this?' Well, obviously. I don't think about it like that at all. I think about from where we were to where we are, it's a million miles, but the journey has just begun. I knew that when I signed here, the term of my contract expresses that very clearly. When you look at the teams that are in the playoffs today, all those teams think they're making the playoffs again next year. So, it's great to say, 'Oh, we're going to get in.' Well, who's going to be out? There's a lot to it. The great thing about the Stanley Cup playoffs and the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup is it's supposed to be hard. The teams like us that think we're close, you never know how far you are away until you get into the playoffs and then you get hammered by a team that's been doing it for a while and they've got real men and they've been through the wars and they understand what it takes to play. I guess what I would say to you is that I think we're really going in the right direction, I think we're going to have a bunch of kids. I'm proud that we worked and I'm proud that the fans in our community, in our town that come to the rink, they seem to be appreciative of what we're trying to do and the direction we're going in. I think it's going to be fun to be a Maple Leaf, I really do.
Brooks Laich said he feels lucky to be a part of this, do you share that sentiment?
Yeah, for sure, I like Laicher because he likes life. He gets up in the morning, he's energized by it. A big part of that is choosing your attitude each and every day. What he's been able to do off the ice, not just on the ice, but off the ice for us is important. I think we have a special place in Toronto. I think it's a fantastic city. We have unbelievable fan support, it's crazy actually the punishment that some of these people have taken and they're still hanging with us, but the future is bright here. It's going to be bright for a long period of time. Is it going to happen as quick as we all want? Probably not. It never usually does in life. But it's going to happen.
What comes to mind when you hear the name Auston Matthews?
He's a great kid. Tony Granato's brother coached him and [Matthew] Tkachuk last year so they were in my office in Detroit all the time, they'd drop in. I've seen him play a number of times, not this year, but last year. He's a big, talented guy. But, all we know for sure is that we have an 80 per cent chance of not being in on that pick. We know we're going to get a top-four pick, that's all we know and we're going to be ecstatic with whoever we get.
Are you going to wear your lucky McGill tie for the lottery?
No, I'm going to go somewhere and do something else probably. I don't even know where I'm booked to be. But no, I won't be there. I really believe in life that if you do good things, good things happen. I also believe things happen for a reason. Some young man is going to be fortunate to get to be a Leaf.
What excites you most about the group of young kids that you have?
There's too many of them, that's what I like the best because we don't know which ones are going to be the good ones. We can speculate all we want but you don't know for sure and the kids we have coming, not just the ones that play on the Marlies, the kids we have coming, we have some good players. The other thing is we have some guys, four or five of them, that have an unbelievable drive trains and I think that's what you need to be successful. Skill is a great, great thing but a drivetrain is a whole other thing that pushes people around you to be better. I like the group. The other thing is I have a pretty good relationship with Hunts [Mark Hunter] and he's like a dog on a bone. He can't help it, even when he tells his wife he's coming home for supper, the truck usually veers and goes to a game, which I really appreciate. In the end those are the guys that make you good. You need players. The more players you have the better chance you have to be a good coach.
Is there a sense of relief that you get to set aside the pain for now and think long-term?
Not really, it's been a long time since I haven't been in the playoffs and this is the most exciting time of year. You want to be part of this. It's actually a little bit -- you're taking your team picture and there's still games going on today isn't there? That's not where you want to be. In saying all that, I like the position we're in better than a lot of teams in the National Hockey League. A lot.
Did you identify some leadership within the room this year and how important will that be going forward?
It's really important and it's also really important that some of our young guys who are good players really continue to grow up and become men so that they can do it right every day and they can lead as well. You need your good players to be leaders in the end. So, not only do we have to have good veteran leadership, we also have to have good leadership from within from our young guys and grow that. I think what will happen over the next -- and I don't know how long it'll be, I hope they have a long run, only a couple of teams get long runs, the rest of you are usually short. I hope we have some guys coming there and I sure witnessed the work ethic part of the leadership when some of them were around so that was positive.
How much do you miss the playoffs that are going to happen and how quickly do you want that back?
I want it back next year, I miss it a lot. I believe the best thing is when you've got best on best and they're all healthy and you're all healthy and you don't know who's going to win. That's the game you want to be in. We're trying to build a franchise that's going to have an opportunity to do that year after year so when we arrive in September, you're not worried about this week, you're saying all the time when you write your article, 'That win last night doesn't really matter, what are they going to do in the playoffs?' Those 'what are they going to do in the playoffs?' -- you don't even care about -- all you talk about is the playoffs. That's where we're going.
Would you expect to have a captain in place by the time the season begins next year? Do you think it's important?
I think it's really important but I don't expect to have one, no... I don't expect to. Things can change. Being a captain isn't given, it comes on at-earn basis. You have to have someone who's capable of being that. Lou and I haven't even talked about this, or Shanny for that matter. We had a team picture today without one. It's not really what you want, in the end it's where we're at, and we'll make sure we have a good captain over time.
Was the year harder than you thought it would be or as you expected?
No, it was better than I thought. Everything was good until this last little bit. I thought I enjoyed it a lot, I thought we competed hard, I thought we were professional about how we went about our business. I liked a lot of things that happened, it went way better from a player movement standpoint than we could have ever thought or hoped and so we're set up better that way, and the guys were great. The guys were good people to work with, they worked hard and they tried hard and I think that's all you can ask for a group is to work hard and compete hard.
How patient are you now that you've seen something positive in this team?
I think I'm patient with the plan, I'm very impatient probably on game day. I'm no different than the fans, I want to have success as fast as we can but, so do the players. It just doesn't happen overnight. You look at all these franchises that, many groups go to the media at this time of the year and tell them how great next year is going to be and then next year never comes in sport because it keeps happening over and over again. What makes you believe me? The answer is simply it's going to happen. I just know by what we've done and what we've got coming and where we're going. The plan we have, it's just going to happen. Now, I don't know if it's soon enough for all of us, so that's the impatient part. We'll be fine.