Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice in Calgary on Monday, discussing the threat posed by the Flames’ top line, the Argonauts winning the Grey Cup, the Kadri vs. Komarov race in practice, and more.
An opportunity to come back to Western Canada – close to your heart and good to be here?
Babcock: Obviously, for me, I know a tonne of people here. My mom and dad aren’t alive anymore, so that’s a little bit different. I have lots of family and friends [here]. I coached at Red Deer College just up the road. For a while, I coached University of Lethbridge in this area. I spent quite a bit of time working for Hockey Canada here. I’ve spent a lot of time in Alberta and enjoyed it. I’m from Saskatchewan, but it’s great to go West.
What sort of challenge do you see from the Gaudreau, Monahan and Ferland line?
Babcock: Lots of challenges from them. In general, just as a team, they’re a good team and they’re playing real well. They’ve got a real nice backend that’s real active. Smith has done a good job for them in net. Good balance up front. But, obviously, that line is on fire and they do a real good job, the three of them together. Two of them are real heavy guys, and then a guy who is just flat-out fun to watch and actually a lot of fun to pre-scout. He’s doing a lot of good things out there.
It’ll be a fun game for us. Today was a good practice for us to get in here, altitude wise, and the ice wasn’t great. So it was good work for our guys and we’ll be better here tomorrow.
Is negating an opponent’s speed just about dealing with what you talked about last week – keeping the puck in their zone, establishing a forecheck, and keeping it there?
Babcock: Any time you spend time in the offensive zone, you don’t have to worry about them rolling around in your zone. They can really transition the puck here, this team. They’re good on the rush and have active D. It’s going to be important for us to play well. In saying all of that, we’re not bad, either. We’re going to create some problems for them. Ideally, we’ll both play good and the best team will win.
You mentioned the other day about Larry Tanenbaum and how happy you were that the Argos did well. Now that he’s won the Grey Cup, your thoughts?
Babcock: I guess Mike Illitch was the same in Detroit. They’re people that, when they touch something, it turns to gold. Huge hearts. Love their city. Can’t help but to just keep giving back. Larry, to me, is an absolute gem. His family is spectacular. It’s not hard to figure out why he’s had success. For him to keep doing great things for the city of Toronto is a lot of fun. Any time you’re around winning, that’s a real special thing. Obviously, it’s a real good example for us. It’s great they were able to look after that with their opportunity. It looked like a lot of fun.
Last season, Gaudreau had his hand broken by one of the slashes they’re trying to take out of the game now. Do you think that’s worked for skill players? Has it created a little more opportunity for them to show their stuff?
Babcock: I’m not 100% sure. There is no sense in letting slashing in the hands go. It made no sense anyway. You’re a better player with your stick on the puck anyway. Why wouldn’t we eliminate that? It’s no different than contact to the head or all of those other things. To me, those are real positive steps. You want to keep doing that as a league and crack down.
The other thing is you want good players on the ice.
Have you seen some of the slashing creep back?
Babcock: I’m not here to evaluate what’s going on in the league fellas.
What led to the Leo vs. Nazem showdown?
Babcock: Yeah, we just had a little derby there. It was kind of fun, actually. It was good. They’re good buddies and they’re hard on each other. They abuse each other. It’s great and good entertainment. That led to more entertainment. Little entertainment never killed anybody.
Do you expect the result in that race? Were you surprised at all?
Babcock: I think you shouldn’t ask me any questions.
Barry Trotz said the other night that one of the underrated things about your team is getting the puck into a situation where you can win the race to the decision line on icings. How effective is that and does that sort of underline the work your guys do in the summer with Barb?
Babcock: I would just say that it was nice of Trotzy to say something nice. I appreciate that. Thanks, Trotzy. The way the league is now – the way the league is so tight – you’ve got to find a way to create space. One of the thing Gaudreau does so good is creates space by getting out of the zone. Sometimes it’s very effective and sometimes it’s not as good. Obviously, the other night wasn’t good enough.