Mike Babcock addresses the media ahead of camp


What’s the most challenging team you’ve ever coached?
When I arrived in Anaheim, they had miss the playoffs by 25 points. When I arrived at Lethbridge, they had never made the playoffs in their nine year history. You just do what you do. For me, number one is 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. We’ve got a big job. I’m excited about that. Let’s get on fixing it. We can spend all the time you want talking about, “the last this many years, that many years,” but none of that is on my radar at all. It starts here today for me. I’ve watched these guys here now for three weeks. I wasn’t involved in anything. My job starts today, as far as I’m concerned, as far as the on-ice product. We’re going to work hard to make it better. We’re going to work hard to restore the Maple Leafs to their rightful place in the league.

Your assistants – can you talk about their roles?
They’re good coaches, they’re good people. I think Jim Hiller is a really, really good offensive mind. He thinks different than I do. He stands next to me on the bench. He’s got ideas coming out the wazoo. We had the second best powerplay in the League last year in Detroit, and led the league in powerplay goals. That was the first time since Lidstrom and Holmstrom left that we were like that. We brought in Jim Hiller and he changed a lot of things for us. Just the way he teaches offensive skill – when we’re standing on the bench, he says something and I’m thinking something totally different all the time. He never ever says what I’m thinking, so it’s perfect. You may as well have a bunch of ideas. I think the players gravitate towards the offensive guys. They want someone to help them score. That’s what he’s thinking about all the time – how to score. I like that.

We brought in DJ Smith. DJ’s a guy who has been successful at the junior level. I think he’s a real good man. He was a minor league player and an NHL player, but he was a grinder; he had to figure out a way to play. I had him in 1997 at the world junior camp. He hurt himself and didn’t make the team or he would’ve been on the team. I’ve followed him for a long time. For me, he’s a serial winner. What does that mean? It means everywhere you go you just win. I like those people. I like to hire those people. They make you better.

You can hire a guy who has been in the NHL, and that’s a great thing and they have experience, but the NHL is cookie cutter. We’re under the microscope so much. In the other leagues, they try things. I think, when you’ve been in the League a long time, you get a lot of your information and ideas when you meet with other CEOs and companies because there’s cross pollination. I think when you bring in guys from other Leagues, they’ve tried other things and it just might work.

Steve Briere is another guy I was really impressed with. Mitch Korn really helped me, I’ve got to tell you. I know how to hire coaches; I didn’t know how to hire a goalie coach. Mitch Korn really set me up. I went to a number of guys to gather information. He set me up with the process. I normally don’t interview a bunch of guys. The way I interview is I’ve done all the interviewing before, and then I usually get my family involved so it’s not just hockey; I find out who you are. With the goaltending coaching, we gathered information first by talking to Mitch and gathering information. Then we went to some of what we thought were some of the best goalie coaches were and asked who the stable of the next guys were. Then, we got it down to a group of five. We interviewed those five, and this guy I was just impressed with him. He’s a smart, smart guy. He’s going to make us better over time. His big thing is he hasn’t been in the NHL, so his relationship thing… I remember a number of years ago, I hadn’t been in the NHL either. Get on with it.

Andrew Brewer is the smartest guy on my staff. He was with me for the 2014 Olympics. I brought him to Detroit. He’s the coaching concierge. He just makes sure we don’t look dumb. He makes sure our presentations are good. He’s 29 years old; he’s the age of the players. He doesn’t mind saying, “Babs, they don’t think like that. You’re as old as the ark. They think like this.”

When I first arrived in the League, I hired Paul McLean. Nine or ten time 30-goal-scorer, had been around, and Lorne Henning, who had won three or four Stanley Cups, because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I felt I needed more experience. Now, what I try to do is I try to hire guys who are idea people that are going to make you better and change. I believe, as a head coach, you have to reinvent yourself every summer. You try to do that. I think the people you talk to and the people you hire make a big difference.

Your organization lost a premiere goal scorer, albeit one who had a bad season last year. Who scores for this team this year?
That’s a great question. Let’s not kid ourselves. Phil Kessel, if I’m not mistaken, led the Olympics in scoring last Olympics. Elite, elite player. You need to score goals, I understand that. We’re going to learn how to play first. Every year, for ten years, I’ve sat in the office with Ken Holland and we’d add up the number of goals we’re going to score before the season. I know you’ve got to score about 230 to get in. When we did the math, it didn’t add up good. We’ve got to figure out some other way to get it up there. The other thing about is there’s four or five guys, or three or four guys, who are way better than I think, and there’s going to be guys who are different than I expected. I can’t tell you that because I don’t know. All we’re going to do is we’re going to build a process here. I’m going to make it very clear to the guys. I like being happy, period. I’m not staying awake at night, so we’re going to work. The two things that irritate me the most are lack of preparation and lack of compete. That’s not happening. We’re going to get that fixed.

Matt Hunwick likened it to a college football team, saying the coaches are the biggest stars on the team. What do you think about that?
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. I’m Mike Babcock from Saskatoon. That’s who my kids know, that’s who my wife knows. If my dad was alive, he’d tell you, “just remember where you’re from.” I’m just going to come here and work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be coach of the Leafs. It’s an unbelievable logo, unbelievable city, but let’s just get to work.

Traditionally, when it’s possible, you’ve been a one-goalie guy. How do you view the situation with Reimer and Bernier going forward?
When I was at Lethbridge college, I forget the two guys names to be honest with you, but I went with two goalies all year long. In game one of the playoffs, I went with one. In game two of the playoffs, I went with the other. And then we were out of the playoffs. I haven’t done that since. I like one guy to know he’s the guy. Basically, usually what I tell them is, “I’ll tell you when you’re not starting.” Someone’s got to grab it. I’m going to camp, I’m going to watch. The veteran guys are probably playing four games. Let’s decide who wants to play. They’ve put in their work. I know they both want to be number one. I don’t know. Let’s watch and see who it is. The other thing about them is we’re going to get organized in our own zone, so they know where the shot is coming from so they can be there and be square. This random goaltending where there’s four different guys shooting the puck; that’s impossible to play like that. Why don’t we look after the structure in our own zone first, and then I think our goaltending will be better.

How do you manage the development of young defencemen like Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly given all the responsibility that’s going to be accorded to them this offseason?
They’ve got to get way better defensively. I think everybody talks about Morgan Rielly and everyone knows he has elite upside and an offensive guy. But Gardiner, when I watch him, I think he should be a good player. So, let’s build him up. Let’s get him going. Let’s get him playing good. Let’s get him to understand that the faster you play defence the more you have the puck and the less time you have to spend in the defensive zone. That’s what we’re going to work on. I don’t how long this takes. Whatever time it takes, that’s what it takes, but those guys are important to us. The Marincin kid is important to us. Harrington is important to us. Phaneuf is important to us. They all are. Let’s find out who are the best guys, let’s get them on the ice, and let’s teach them to be better and help them be better. Our forwards are coming back hard. They’re going to be allowed to make mistakes because the forwards are going to look after them. It’s amazing when you trust one another and work as a five-man unit how the D suddenly look better.

We’re going to get organized and we’re going to work. That, to me, I think is something we can help with more than the other part of it. If you spend less time in your own zone, you have a better chance of being in the offensive zone. It’s a real simple game: the work zone is your own zone, the speed zone is the neutral zone, and the fun zone is the offensive zone. I’d rather hang out in the fun zone.

By now you’ve watched lots of tape. What do you like going into camp about the players you have?
I haven’t done that. The reason I haven’t done that is because things went so poorly. Why would I watch them be bad? Makes no sense to me. They’ve got a clean slate. We’re going to catch them doing it right, we’re going to build some confidence and a way to play. That’s why I’m in for a lot of surprise. Now, have I seen these players play? Absolutely. But I know the Red Wings. Lou knows the Devils. I don’t know the Leafs. We’re going to get to know them. We’re going to get to know the guys who arrived here at camp, not the ones in the past.

You’ve got four guys on a PTO. Is their age an advantage or a disadvantage?
I don’t know their age. I don’t even know how old they are. Can they play or can they not?

Mike, you’ve been a winner….
That sounded past tense. Let’s say that again. Try that?

You are a winner.
Thank you.

Actually, that’s funny, but it’s good, too…
I wasn’t trying to be funny, but anyway, go ahead.

Yeah, it’s accurate. When a team is losing, players lose focus; they lose the will to work…
No, they lose confidence, and they feel like they’re by themselves and they feel like no one has their back. And they feel like they can’t go anywhere or do anything, and they’re not as proud as they should be. Success, the circle of success, is real simple. Your kid walks out of the garage, there’s a soccer ball standing there; he kicks it off the wall and it rolls down the driveway and into the cul-de-sac. He goes back inside, gets on the computer. His younger brother comes out, kicks it off the wall, it bounces off the wall and hits his foot. He kicks it again. He kicks it again. 18 years later, he scores the winning goal at the World Cup. He does what he’s good at. He feels good about himself. Can you imagine what it’s like coming to the rink and never feeling good about yourself?  I can’t even imagine how long that would be. You lose interest. Is that what you’re saying?

That’s where I’m going. You were talking about the process. Is your biggest challenge this year that your focus will be on the process and how to get better even though the wins aren’t there?
The biggest challenge today is whatever I’m doing. If you live in the present and just focus on what you’re doing, and put it all into that, I think you have a chance to be successful. Right now we’re doing this. Instead of worrying about this year, if we just worry about the day we’re in, and we focus on it and put our energy into it and get ready for the next one, I think we have a chance to get better. To me, that’s what it’s about. I’ve been fortunate to coach teams with really good players and have success. In the end, when you get the ultimate prize, it’s still about the process. That’s how you get there. You just focus on the process, be process-oriented and try to get better. We’re going to try to take a step each day, get better each day. We’re going to try to make each other better. We’re going to try to create a demanding, supportive atmosphere that makes you all feel good about who you are and make sure you work. That’s what we’re trying to do. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I can just tell you the process is going to be built in and we’re just going to work at it. If it takes longer than we want, it takes longer than we want. If it’s quicker than we expected, it’s quicker. We just keep grinding.

You’ve got a captain who has been a whipping boy in this city for years –
Not for me.

How do you help him get to the level you think he can get to, and what level do you think he can get to?
I think he’s got great intentions. I think it’s an easy target when you’re a captain. I think we’ll give him a day off from you guys a week, for sure. We’re going to look after him with structure. Lou and I’s job is to look after him. We’re going to do that. I think he’s going to have a real good year. When our D see how supportive our forwards are going to be, I think it’s going to make them happy. I like Dion. He’s the captain of the Leafs, he’s going to be the captain of the Leafs, and he’s our leader right now. I think we can really help him with the leadership side of things. We’re just going to help him be the best he can be just like everybody else.

Some people have come in here and they haven’t done well with the distractions and the pressure associated with being Leafs in this city. How will you deal with that?
It’s a real good question. Everybody keeps telling me that they paint you guys as something awful, just awful. I don’t believe that. I believe without the players, without the fans, without the media, you have no National Hockey League. I’m real straightforward. I’m going to come here everyday and I’m going to be as honest as I can. I’m not going to make anything up. When we play good I’m going to tell you. When we play bad I’m going to tell you. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time checking out what you’ve had to write or say. I’m just going to do my job. I think that’s what the players should do. But it’s interesting to me, when I go to the golf tournament and I see Darryl Sittler and I see Wendel Clark and Tiger Williams and Darcy Tucker and all these guys, they love Toronto. How come they love Toronto so much? How come they think it’s the greatest city in the world? How come they think being a Maple Leaf is the greatest place you can ever play? They can’t all be wrong. Why don’t we fix it?