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Babcock says there's no rift with Maple Leafs GM Dubas

Coach maintains recent comments about depth were misinterpreted

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Mike Babcock said Friday that he and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas are on the same page despite reports to the contrary. 

Speculation about a possible rift between the Maple Leafs coach and GM became so prevalent in Toronto in recent days that the two sat down to discuss the matter. Babcock admitted there is room for growth but said that is part of the process with any coach-GM combination in its first season.

"[Dubas] and my relationship isn't as good as it will be four years from now," said Babcock, who coached his first three seasons in Toronto under GM Lou Lamoriello. "Mine with (Detroit Red Wings GM) Ken Holland wasn't as good in my first as in my 10th or Bryan Murray in my first (with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) as in my third. It takes a while to build."

Babcock coached the Ducks under Murray from 2002-04 and the Red Wings under Holland from 2005-15. He said Murray taught him that the key to success was to not let any outside noise interfere with the common goals any coach and GM are attempting to achieve.

"If you do, you're in trouble," Babcock said. "So that's important. Whatever people speculate or think, I don't think that's the case (in Toronto). I know [Kyle] and I talk all the time."

One of those discussions took place this week to clear up recent comments Babcock made about the Maple Leafs not having the same type of depth as Stanley Cup contenders like the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Babcock's point at the time revolved around Toronto's difficulties without defensemen Travis Dermott (shoulder) and Jake Gardiner (back). Their absences were evident when the Maple Leafs allowed 26 goals in an 1-4-0 stretch that culminated in a 3-0 loss at the Predators on Tuesday. 

"There are other teams that have done a better job when different players are out than we have keeping on going," Babcock said Monday. "That just tells you what state you're at, and you have to just keep adding better players." 

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Babcock's comments were construed in some circles as a shot at Dubas, who oversaw Toronto's farm system from 2014-18 while we was the assistant GM. He replaced Lamoriello, now the New York Islanders GM, on May 11.

Babcock was made aware by the Maple Leafs public relations staff Tuesday in Nashville of an article suggesting he was blaming Dubas for leaving the cupboard bare. The coach scoffed at that notion.

"We've talked about this since this happened," Babcock said. "How would I say it? If any of my comments in any way -- because then I read the article and I don't read it that way, at all -- but if any of my comments in any way hurt anyone, it [wasn't intended]. 

"We talked about this the other day with our players. When I come out to talk to you people, if anyone's wife reads the comments the next day and they feel hurt, you've (the media) done the wrong thing. That's not my intent."

Babcock and Dubas have worked together in the Maple Leafs organization since 2015 and are familiar with each other's likes and dislikes. That they share the urge to improve Toronto's talent at the NHL and minor league levels is a given.

"One of the comments was about depth," Babcock said. "Depth in the organization, we've got to keep improving our depth. We all know it. That's what [Dubas] is trying to do, (senior director of player evaluation) Jim Paliafito, our pro scouts, myself, (coach) Sheldon (Keefe, with Toronto of the American Hockey League) -- developing players. We're all trying to do it so we can get to be like these teams. Tampa, to me, is just a model of what depth is and it doesn't matter if guys get hurt or not.

"If there was any slap at anyone it sure wasn't intended. That's not what I meant to say."

The Maple Leafs (44-25-5) are six points behind the Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division. They have been eliminated in first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons and haven't advanced past the first round since the 2003-04 season. 

Babcock has become accustomed to topics being blown out of proportion in hockey-crazed Toronto. He said it's part of the job, part of the environment and yet another example of how much people care about the Maple Leafs. 

"Now, you guys live in Toronto too, don't you?" Babcock said to reporters. "There's going to be a [controversy] once in a while. There just is. You'd like to say everything perfect and maybe sometimes you don't, but the intent (matters)."

In Babcock's opinion, the intent he and Dubas have for the Maple Leafs is the same: to win.

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