Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing the team’s recent dip, DJ Smith’s future as an NHL head coach, Auston Matthews’ status, and more.
How important is the schedule right now with the breaks in between games? We can see Auston out with the main group for a bit, and also just to get this club reset for the task at hand?
Babcock: We had three days off in six days, which we planned into our schedule. We came up with a schedule and set it up so the guys could get recharged. We also feel we can get skating way better again as a group, and that’s a huge priority for us. We’ll try to do that as well, and then get our details done. They had a good freshen-up day yesterday, and they’ll get another one tomorrow. They’ll get another good practice in before we play Pittsburgh, and then we’ll have another follow-up day. We just feel — the sports science team feels — that that’s the best opportunity to freshen our group up for the stretch drive here.
How big of a step is it for Auston to be back on the ice for you guys?
Babcock: I think it’s good for him. Just mentally; instead of hanging out by yourself and we were gone for 10 days and these are his buddies, so who do you hang out in Toronto with? I think the priority for him, obviously, is to do as much as he can each day and when he’s ready — or over-ready — we’ll get him back into the lineup.
Frederik Andersen was saying he doesn’t mind staying in the rhythm with a lot of games, but is a stretch like this good for a guy like that who has played so much?
Babcock: I think so. But you look after the last while, and I know I keep hearing he’s playing all these games, but I look at the schedule and the spacing sometimes and he gets some good breaks, too. To me, it’s real simple: Do you want to play all the games, or not? I’ve never, ever seen a guy who said, “Can I sit out one more, coach?”
The NHLPA voted DJ Smith as the assistant that could be head coach material. How important is he to your staff?
Babcock: Yeah, important. I think the thing with DJ is, in my opinion, he’s going to be a good NHL head coach. I always look, when I’m going to hire people, for serial winners. So wherever they’ve gone, they’ve won. To me, that means something. Did you win at playoff time? Were you able to deliver? The first few were as an assistant in Windsor, but you’re still doing it and a big part of it. Obviously, doing it yourself in Oshawa… I’m a big believer that major junior is like NHL light. It’s like light beer. It’s exactly the same. You’ve got to coach stars. You’ve got to handle stars, and you’ve got to have success with them.
To me, he’s got a good ability to talk to people, understands the game, and has been around now for three years and has a real good understanding of what the NHL is all about and what it takes. I think he’s going to have good success as a coach. The other thing, I think, is prior to this year, when we talked about it this summer, I didn’t think that… To me, it’s like a player. If you arrive when you’re over-ready, you have confidence and you stay long. When you arrive when you’re not ready, you leave fast. I think he’s set up good.
In the same poll, Marleau was voted one of the best role models in the league. Have you seen that first hand, and was that an intangible, maybe, when you were looking to bring him in?
Babcock: It was one of the main reasons. But you can’t do anything of those things and you don’t get notoriety unless you’re a good player. The other thing about it is, when you come to this market, there is more coverage about you, obviously, than any other market. I think that helps in that situation.
Patty is a real good man and tries to do it right every single day and is a good leader for our guys. That’s why we brought him here, and that’s what he’s doing.
Is Saturday an option for Auston or is it still way too early?
Babcock: I don’t know what they’ll do. I just noticed he was wearing red today, and we don’t have a whole lot of red in our uniforms, so…
What have you seen from your home club in establishing success at the ACC in the last nine games and maybe leading up to it?
Babcock: I just think we were on a real good run there for quite a period of time. Just like most good runs, even though you don’t want to believe it or want it to, they come to an end and you usually dip a little bit no matter what you do. We’re at the “fight your way back” stage, obviously, to get on another run. We’ve been good at getting these to be pretty short. We’ve got a real good team in Pittsburgh coming in and we’ll be excited to play them. We’ll be fresh, too.