Mike Babcock joined TSN Overdrive to discuss the end of the season, the youth, managing expectations for next year, Nazem Kadri, and Jonathan Bernier. Full transcript below.

When you said, “there will be pain,” you called your shot here, and it has been a painful season. What has been most painful?

A lot of things have been really good. The city has been fantastic, the fan base has been great, the players have really tried hard. We’ve been able to acquire a lot of young players and a lot of draft picks, clean out a lot of contracts and set ourselves up for the future. I like how competitive we have been in terms of work ethic and structure on a nightly basis. The bottom line is, when you don’t win as much as you’d like, that’s always painful.

Knowing that coming in, did that make it easier for you to control your emotions and maybe temper the frustration?

Babcock: I think you’re good every day except game day, and you’re good on game day until it doesn’t go the way you want and you don’t feel you’re quite set up to do the things you want to do. That’s the part, and then you get up the next day. The sun gets up and so do you; you get on with it. That’s what we tried to do here. We tried to choose our attitude daily and be real positive about things. We feel we’re going in the right direction. Now, the proof is in the pudding. The reality is when you’re in the situation we are, like a number of other teams, you’re hoping for better days ahead. But you’ve got to do good things to make that happen.

When the kids came up, it really felt like a different buzz around the team — certainly a different buzz around the media and the fan base. From your standpoint, dating back to the trade deadline — when Nylander came up and Soshnikov and Hyman, and obviously Brown’s been up as well as Valiev and a couple of other kids – with those kids coming up for an extended period of time, how did that change your overall view of the season?

Babcock: I think the big thing is, obviously, we have a number of young players. The guys you mentioned in Soshnikov, Hyman, Nylander, Brown, Carrick and Valiev – those guys are way more ready than, say, Lindberg or Gauthier or Kapanen. And yet those guys are going to play in the NHL, too – and we have a number in the organization – but they’re not quite as ready. When you look at our group and the core of our group now is 26 and under for sure, that’s what we’ll build around here, but we have to continue to make progress. This offseason is a huge opportunity again for the management team do its work.

A lot of people are already starting to put the cart before the horse and are raising expectations next season based on these kids and based on the cap space that will be available this summer. There are a lot of the rumours and conjecture out there in terms of what kinds of players could be coming. As a guy who is all about that process and understands that it can take time, are you fearful that the fan base and the expectations could get a bit ahead of where they should be?

Babcock: I’m not worried about that one bit. It’s not up to a fan base to make those decisions. It’s up to a management team to make those decisions. As long as we understand where we’re going, I don’t think there’s an issue whatsoever. I think it’s important if you’re a bar owner or a restaurant owner and you have no Maple Leafs in the playoffs, what good is that doing you? To me, if you’ve been a loyal Maple Leafs supporter forever and you have no Leafs in the playoffs, it’s not doing you much good. They want us to be in the playoffs; we want to be in the playoffs. But what we want to do is have a ten-year run. We want to have a real good team for a long period of time. In order to do that, we have to do it right. If we get ahead of ourselves, that will never happen.

This year you had a relatively young team, but the expectations are you could be that much younger next year. If that ends up applying, and a lot of these kids make the team out of camp, in terms of the process – the potential pain – how might next season be different than this season?

Babcock: We’ll be way more talented, way quicker, way more fun to watch, obviously. That was very evident here a couple of weeks ago until we sent the guys back down. [It’ll be] a much different crew that way. I think we believe we have more guys coming. I think we’re set up to have a lot of fun. Does that mean you’re going to win as much as you should? It’s a man’s league, not a boys league. If you want to win every night, you need men. They’re going to take some time to grow up. That’s just the reality of the situation.

What kind of lessons are you hoping those young kids maybe take from this stint that will be applied next season?

Babcock: I think it’s got to be applied in the playoffs in the Calder Cup playoffs. The reality is you win on skill, you win on goaltending, you win on structure, you win on defence, you win on detail. What they’re finding when they arrive here is that it takes a lot more detail than you probably anticipated. I think that’s a good lesson for them. The other thing is, if you’re not good without the puck, you never have the puck. You think you’re a puck guy, but you never get it. Why? Because you don’t stand in the right spots, and don’t compete hard enough without it. So those are lessons that are being learned on a daily basis. I think the guys are responding to them very well.

Nazem Kadri’s season is effectively over after the four-game suspension. He’s been in the news a lot lately with the diving, the embellishment, the suspension. He’s really played with a lot of bite. No one can question his effort throughout the season, but through the last month and a half it really seems like he’s getting more involved. That kind of “bite” that comes with his game – are you encouraging that, or would you like to see him scale it back a bit?

Babcock: I’d like to see him not be in the box or not be suspended, but I believe in commanding your fair share of the ice. I think part of what makes Naz Naz is how hard he competes. I like him. He’s a real good player. He’s got to compete that hard in the gym this summer. This is the biggest summer of his career. If he wants to be as good as he’s capable of being, he’s got to dig in off the ice. If he does that, we’re going to have a real good player on our hands.

How would you define the stage of his career he’s currently in? Is he still a young player? Is he a middling player? Is he a veteran player? Where is Nazem Kadri in your eyes?

Babcock: I just thought his growth this year was fantastic. He’s gone from a player who doesn’t know how to play in his own zone to a player who knows how to play in his own zone, who plays against the best players every night. He’s effective. He can score way better than he did this year by working on his body and his shot this summer. He’s still got a lot of growth in him, but he didn’t just arrive this week either. He’s 25 years of age. I still think there’s a lot of growth room there. Like I said to you, this summer is a huge summer for Naz.

Would you rely on him to be a mentor-type to a kid like Nylander?

Babcock: I’m hoping the guys like Hunwick and the guys like that, and Komarov, will do those things. I think Naz is still in the “worry about yourself” stage of his career.

Jonathan Bernier has played a lot better recently considering what happened with him earlier in the year. How has his late season performance affected the way you evaluate his whole season?

Babcock: Obviously, it didn’t go very good at the start. Being mentally tough enough to battle through and find your game is so important. This league, this town, that position isn’t kind when things don’t go well. I think that was hard for him. I think he’s fought his way through it, and that’s real positive for us obviously.

Was it more mental, now that you look back on it?

Babcock: I don’t know the answer to that. You can ask him. The puck didn’t stay out.

How did that potentially affect the way you’ll approach him going into the offseason this summer?

Babcock: When you’ve had a year like we had, everything is full review. It is anyway. When you win the Cup, you have a full review. That’ll go on here over the next few weeks and we’ll set ourselves up to have the best team that we can.