Mike Babcock addressed the recent moves, losing Roman Polak, Nick Spaling and Shawn Matthias, and the in-flux of Marlies expected in the coming days.
What did Roman Polak bring to the team and what maybe will be his lasting impression on the guys that are still around?
Mike Babcock: Great, great man and competes hard every single day. Great pro. Physically strong. Our best penalty killer. You know, everything you want. He’s a good guy, great teammate. San Jose made a real good trade and so did we.
What’s the mood like around the team with three guys gone in the past couple of days?
Babcock: Good teammates, too. Guys who liked hockey. No one wanted to be a Leaf more than [Shawn Matthias]. He worked hard everyday and tried to help us. He gets a real good opportunity and so did we. Same with [Nick Spaling]. Started strong with us and then got hurt. Did everything we asked. He played for Pete Deboer in junior. It’ll be a good trade for those guys and also a good trade for us. I don’t think anybody the organization as far as Lou, Shanny or myself… we all knew this was going to happen. It doesn’t make it any easier. On a personal note, we try not to confuse the players and the people at all. We have a plan to do the right thing for the Leafs and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. In the meantime, though, the players that are here won’t spend any time worrying about those things. You can control how hard you work and getting better every day. If you work hard today, everything is going to be okay for you. So that, to me, is the key thing and the message to our team. Our preparation today was to help us win tomorrow and that’s our plan.
Matthias was one of my hometown guys you had on the team. Have you noticed any higher compete level from the hometown guys, or something different about the guys from Toronto?
Babcock: No. To be honest, I don’t check their passport each day. To me, they’re just Leafs and we’re expecting them to work hard and compete hard. There’s a large amount of players from the Ontario area. We’re going to build a real franchise here that people are proud to be a part of. We expect guys from Ontario are going to want to play here, but we’re in a process right now that’s going to take a little time and we all understand that.
You knew it was coming, as you said, but how difficult is it to put together a lineup each night with all the bodies in and out?
Babcock: It’s not difficult, but to execute right… Last game I thought we made as many mistakes as we’ve made since exhibition. We still battled back, we got ourselves in the game, but we made mistakes. When you have lots of new people in your lineup, even if you’ve done it in the American Hockey League, it’s not the same as doing it here. That’s a challenge for us. My job is the same – to make them better each and every day and to try to help them have success. So that’s where my focus will be and that’s where their focus will be, on being the best pro you can, best teammate, playing with the most structure you can and giving yourself a chance to win games.
Lou indicated that more of the Marlies will be coming up here with other anticipated moves. Are you looking forward to working with those guys?
Babcock: Sure, but I’m looking forward to working with whoever is in the lineup. We’ve got lots of guys with opportunity. The guys that left today are good, men who worked hard. The guys we brought here today – they’ve got an opportunity to become good pros. What they get and what they carve out for themselves – nothing is going to be given to them and they’ve got to earn it. That’s just the way the league is. The league is a hard league and exposes weakness in everybody. You just keep working at it and getting better. Sure, I’m excited. Now, the guys that left were good people, too, so that’s the people part of the business and the business side of the business is we’re excited to have those kids.
Has it been an adjustment for you, coming from Detroit?
Babcock: It’s different. I haven’t been in this situation since, well, one year in junior when we rebuilt the team and did the same thing we’re doing here. Other than that, I haven’t done this. In saying all that, though, when I came here I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Are we different than before we were when JvR got hurt? Absolutely. That’s all part of life. That’s part of the business.