Mike Babcock on team’s depth: “Soshnikov and Kapanen can play in the NHL without any question, and yet they’re not here”

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Mike Babcock
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 7: Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs heads to the bench for warm-up before the Leafs take on the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre on March 7, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Babcock met with the media after Friday’s practice, discussing:

  • Marleau’s good start in Toronto
  • The decision to put Morgan Rielly back on the power play
  • The decision to rotate Calle Rosen and Dominic Moore in for Andreas Borgman and Eric Fehr vs. New York
  • Martin Marincin’s demotion to the Marlies
  • The depth of the organization up front

What do you like about how Patrick Marleau has integrated into a new city, a new team, a new system?

Babcock: I’m sure Patty would tell you it’s a work in progress. Anytime you got four kids and a wife and you live in the same place 20 years, it’s going to take you some time. There is going to be some moments at home that probably aren’t great, and yet the rink can be a safe haven for you. Just come here and play. Obviously, I thought Pat was real good the other night. I thought his line was real good. They were effective on the penalty kill and they played on the power play. He’s a good player for us. I think it’s nice for him that he scored early. You don’t have to go two weeks without scoring and everyone asking you questions you don’t want to answer. This way, he just gets off to a good start.

We won the one game, and we’ve got to be way better and we understand that. Watching New York play last night, they’re a very good team. We’re going to have to be ready.

Why was now the right time to get Morgan back on the power play?

Babcock: The first thing is that the priority for us was to teach him how to play defense. That was the first priority. Winning game is obviously important and your job as a coach, but when you’re building a program, you’ve got to get your best players to be good players. It had more to do with what we were trying to do with him than whether he played on the power play or not. The power play was fine last year without him. He got to be a better player. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Do you think the year killing penalties and playing against top lines made a difference in terms of confidence?

Babcock: I don’t know that. He’d tell you, when he was dash at the end of the year, that it probably wasn’t that much fun. That’s the problem with some of the stuff. When you don’t look at who you’re playing against, it’s a way different game. Bringing Hainsey here to help him out is going to be a huge difference. You’ve got a veteran player who is calm and knows how to play and has learned over time. That’ll really help you. Obviously, last year, starting the year with Zaitsev – as much as we wanted those two guys to play together – it didn’t go as good as we would’ve liked in the end. But I thought it was a good year for both of them learning wise.

In the games you’ve watched so far, how much has the crackdown on slashing made it tougher to play defence?

Babcock: I don’t think it one bits tougher, actually. I think it makes it easier because, instead of having your stick in the air, you can actually put it on the puck where it’s some good.

Is it a misplaced crackdown?

Babcock: No, I think it was important to crack down. I don’t think slashing a guy on the hands is a good idea, but I think it forces a player to be a better player, if that makes any sense. I don’t think there is any downside to not slashing the guy in the hands. I just think your stick should be down on the ice anyway. Why would we have all of these high sticking penalties when it’s supposed to be on the puck? It makes no sense.

Is it a quick Rangers team that made you want to put in Rosen?

Babcock: No, I just didn’t know the difference between the two of them. I decided we were going to play Borgman there and Rosen here. I did the same with Fehr. Fehr is a Winnipeg kid, and Moore played n New York. In the end, that’s how I made my decision. I don’t think that’s scientific enough to keep anybody out of the lineup.

Are you going to take 10 games to make your mind up?

Babcock: That’s a good question. We’re going to figure it out.

What’s it like when you have the depth where a guy like Fehr leads you in shorthanded ice one night and three nights later you can comfortably take him out?

Babcock: I don’t know if I’d say it was comfortable. If you just base it on “if you won, you should never change your lineup,” the problem is I don’t think you’re being fair to your people and fair to your group and developing the best group we can. Those decisions can always be second-guessed on a win-loss basis. To me, we’re trying to build a program and do the right thing and evaluate our players and get better. That’s why we’re doing it.

A lot of coaches don’t have that luxury, though.

Babcock: I guess it’s like anything. You’ve still got to make the decision. You can avoid making that decision and just say, “Hey, we won, we don’t get him in.” But we think they’re all good players. If it was clear that one guy was ahead of the other guy, there would be no decision to make, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Obviously, we’re deeper than we’ve been in a long time and I think that’s what you’re getting to. Soshnikov and Kapanen can play in the NHL without any question, and yet they’re not here.

What does Marincin have to do at the AHL level to eventually earn an NHL job again?

Babcock: I think the big thing here is we think Martin has lots of good skills to play in the NHL. Confidence has been something we’ve talked a lot about. Go there and play well. Every time the coach and the manager are watching, play well. When there is an opportunity, you get called upon. In the meantime, though, we’re in a process. Borgman and Rosen haven’t played in the NHL for a long time. We don’t either one of them sitting around. If they’re not playing, they won’t be here.