Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing the team’s process of finding an identity, internal accountability, Ron Hainsey’s 1,000-game milestone, and more.
When you talk about the team’s identity and how it evolves and develops, does it take a certain number of games every year to really settle in, or is it always an evolving thing?
Babcock: I think for sure it takes a number of games and I think you’ve got to find yourself. When you’re not a battle-tested team… When I look at two teams in our league like Tampa and Nashville, for example — to me, they’ve been through it. They’ve been grinding. They’ve been doing it for a number of years. You get an identity and you can get back to it. I think you can be more consistent.
We are trying to find our way. We look like a real good team some nights, and then other nights, we are not as good. We have to find a way to do it right every day with an internal accountability to make each other do it right every day. When you get on real good teams, as much fun as you have, sometimes those are grumpier teams because you make each other accountable. We’ve got to do that.
As far as secondary scoring, talking to Connor Brown about what he wants to do… the foundation of hard work he has there, is it important moving forward as far as getting the opportunities?
Babcock: I just think everything is your preparation to understand who you are playing against. It looks to me, when I watch the NHL, every team can beat everybody. If you aren’t prepared and you’re not going to do it right, you’re not going to win. Your attention to detail has to be so high. If you think you’re going out there and out-skilling teams, you’re not doing that. It’s just not going to happen.
A guy like Brownie, for example, his career is based on work ethic. It’s what he’s done. He has to put that in front of everything else. But so does the best player. You’ve got to put your work ethic first and your skill comes out if you do things right. When you let it slip, you don’t win.
When you talk about accountability, are you talking about someone in particular on the team to kind of take that role?
Babcock: No, I am talking about creating a family atmosphere. I’ve said this a number of times: It’s kitchen-table accountability. When you sit down with the people you love at your kitchen table at home, if you say something stupid, someone calls you on it every single time. If you do anything out of line in your family, they keep you grounded. But they can.
That same kind of love has to be in our room — that we’re willing to share, willing to stand up and say, “Hey, you’re not doing it right.” That’s all of us. I think that’s a real important thing, but I also think it’s a process, and we’re in that process now.
Mitch Marner put in a lot of work this offseason. Where have you seen the biggest strides from him so far this year?
Babcock: I think confidence. The toughest thing in the national league is confidence. You’ve got to earn it, and you don’t earn if you don’t put in the work. Then you’ll have some success. He is finding the league is difficult. It’s a very difficult league. The better player you become, the more difficult the league is because there is less room for you. He is going to figure out how to be good with and without it.
I say this all the time: Mitchy — everyone talks about how skills he is. What he is is an elite backchecker. He is an elite puck pursuer. When he plays like that and he plays well defensively, he has the puck all the time, so he gets to make plays. His commitment to that has to be before everything else, and then he ends up scoring.
Given how long you’ve been around the league, what does it tell you about a player when you find out he’s been around for 1,000 games?
Babcock: They’re going to hand this thing out and people are going to be there, and no one is going to really pay attention. They are not going to have any idea. Like, it’s impossible. It’s unbelievable. If you look at Ronnie’s career, it should be a message to all of our young guys who think they should be in the lineup more. Ronnie put in his time to get into the league, and now he’s been good for a long period of time, and he’s still a good player because he loves the game. He has been able to enjoy being around the guys.
I think it’s fantastic and it’s a real testament to his family. It’s hard to do. It will be a good celebration for our guys and for him.
How do you know when it’s a good time to shake up a power play unit?
Babcock: We haven’t had any option just with people getting injured and people not being here. We just take what we have. Obviously, we haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities on the power play. We moved Johnny off the net just because we are trying to get a better five-some and get going. Just with our group and the injury, that’s what we feel we have to do.