Leafs will have to man up for Babcock
Mike Babcock said the right things for public consumption, about how it isn’t fair for him to evaluate from afar the underachieving players he just inherited.
He talked about Dion Phaneuf being a player who works and tries hard. And he talked about the need for those players who are still Maple Leafs to be men.
And then at various points in his opening press conference/coronation as the 30th head coach of the Original Six team, he hinted rather strongly at what he really meant.
He talked about the “pain” that is coming and the “massive, massive challenge” that awaits. In other words, any player currently on the Leafs roster should consider himself on the clock from the the first day of training camp, if they’re even around that long.
We’re not buying Babcock’s comments that there’s no way to know the players just by coaching against them, but he was probably being truthful in suggesting that there are some players in the organization who can be salvaged.
And we’re also willing to bet that Babcock has a pretty good idea of who he would like to stick around. Make no mistake: Babcock will have a major input in personnel decisions, a point acknowledged by the man he once coached and is now his boss, Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.
If Shanahan and Babcock said it once on Thursday, they said it a dozen times, that there will be no quick fix. That means that the rebuild will continue to focus on drafting young players and the hope that Babcock will be able to “coach up” those deemed to be a fit for that long-term plan.
Babcock may have said that he doesn’t know what he has to work with as he begins to coach his third NHL team. And then he said this:
“We understand where we are, too. I did a thorough study of all the teams in the National Hockey League that I met with.”
There isn’t a hockey coach or executive who isn’t well aware of what is going on in Toronto. The fact that Babcock did his research and is admitting much is left to be done confirms the process won’t happen overnight.
More than once, Babcock was asked about the leadership group on the team and the status on the playoff roster and he didn’t bite. But he still managed to say plenty and issue a clear message in the process.
The highlights, with our translation:
- “I’ve been fortunate to have great leaders (in Detroit.) We have good people here and we’re going to make them better. I think you have to help your leaders do things right.”
In other words, is Phaneuf the captain for the team going forward and will he even be here come training camp? And does Babcock plan to decide on his own who he can trust to boost that void currently in the Leafs room.
- “We’re going to be men. We’re going to take responsibility for how hard we play.”
In other words, are you listening, Phil Kessel and friends?
- “On game day, I will be short-sighted for sure, but I have a big picture in mind.”
In other words, players will be driven hard from the start of training camp and other than a couple of young prospects, few are safe going forward? And even though he knows it’s going to take time, Babcock’s DNA is such that he will do what he can to get the most out of them every night they play.
- “I’m a big believer that you start fresh. Let’s figure it out. Let’s figure out what we have and maximize the group and keep acquiring draft picks so that (assistant general manager Mark Hunter) can make us better.”
In other words, this is still a construction zone run by a management groups that wants to keep distancing itself with the current on-ice group.
- “If you think there’s no pain coming ... there’s pain coming.”
In other words, like the previous quote, more changes will accompany all that pain.
We’ve heard tough talk from incoming Leafs coaches and regimes in the past, yet it always seems to end up in the same spot.
We’ve heard tough talk from Mike Babcock throughout his career as well. The difference is Babcock often backs it up. And he does it with more than words.