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Babcock focused on restoring Maple Leafs' luster

by Mike Brophy / NHL.com

TORONTO -- Don't bother Mike Babcock with questions about the past.

That was the message from the new Toronto Maple Leafs coach when he met with the media at MasterCard Centre on Thursday while his players took their physicals prior to the start of training camp, which begins Friday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"We can spend all the time you want talking about the last this many years and that many years; none of that is on my radar at all," Babcock said. "It starts here today for me. My job starts today as far as the on-ice product and we're going to work hard to make that better. We're going to work hard to restore the Maple Leafs to the rightful place in the League."

The Maple Leafs were 27th in the NHL standings last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second season in a row and the ninth time in 10 seasons. Babcock knew the lay of the land when he signed an eight-year contract worth approximately $50 million on May 20, and now he's ready to get down to business.

Babcock spoke with authority and conviction when discussing the Maple Leafs' immediate future. He said rather than worry about their fate for the 2015-16 season, he'll take things a step at a time.

"If we just focus on the day we're in, and we put our energy into it and get ready for the next day, I think we have a chance to get better," Babcock said. "The biggest challenge today is whatever I am doing now. If you live in the moment and focus on what you are doing and you put everything into that, I think you have a chance to be successful."

The Maple Leafs traded their leading scorer of the past six seasons, right wing Phil Kessel, to the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1 and will hope a committee of players, among them James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul and Michael Grabner, acquired Thursday from the New York Islanders, can make up the lost offense.

Babcock, however, is not concerned with offense now; it is defense that consumes him. Toronto allowed 257 non-shootout goals last season, tied for fourth-most in the League. Babcock said his aim is to try to improve that.

"We're going to get organized and we're going to work," he said. "That is something we can help with more than the other part [scoring]. If you spend less time in your own zone, you have a better chance to be in the offensive zone. It's a real simple game; the work zone is your zone, the speed zone is the middle zone and the fun zone is the offensive zone. I'd rather hang out in the fun zone."

Babcock typically likes to identify a No. 1 goaltender who he will start for most of the season. Though the previous coaching staff identified Jonathan Bernier as the starter, Babcock said there will be a competition between Bernier and James Reimer for the job.

Babcock also said the goaltenders should benefit from a system designed to make their life easier.

"We're going to get organized in our own zone so they know where the shots are coming from, so let's be there and be square," Babcock said. "This random goaltending where you think there's four different guys shooting the puck, it's impossible to play like that. So why don't we look after the structure in our own zone first, and I think our goaltending will be better."

Babcock's reputation is that of a champion. He won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, coached Canada to back-to-back gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, and guided the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003. But he stressed he has experience building something up from the ground floor.

"When I arrived in Anaheim, the Ducks had missed the playoffs by 25 points [in 2001-02], and when I arrived at the University of Lethbridge, they had never made the playoffs in their nine-year history," said Babcock, who in 1994 guided Lethbridge to the Canadian collegiate championship in his only season there. "You just do what you do. For me, I'm proud to be here today. You have no idea. I'm proud and I'm excited to be the head coach of the Maple Leafs, and we have a big job. I'm excited about that. Let's get on to fixing it."

Many believe Babcock is the face of the organization, but he isn't having any of it.

"I'm Mike Babcock from Saskatoon," Babcock said. "That's who my kids know and that's who my wife knows. If my dad was alive, he would tell me to just remember where I'm from. I'm just going to come here and work. I'm proud to be the coach of the Leafs; it's an unbelievable logo, an unbelievable city, but let's just get to work."

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