Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Friday, discussing the team’s improved performances in the last two games, the reports about a strained relationship between him and Kyle Dubas, and the status of the players returning from injury.
Do you look at the last two games and see a small sample size as to where you’d like to see your club moving forward in terms of the defensive ability in Nashville and the game in Buffalo with the offense?
Babcock: For sure. I liked both of those games. I’m not sure we didn’t play better in Nashville, to tell you the truth. I really like Nashville’s teams. They’ve done a good job over time. Good players, good age group, and they were hard to play against. We played well in that game and didn’t score. Last game, obviously, we had the puck a lot. We did a lot of good things. Our high-end players were really good in the game and we didn’t give up much. I thought it was a good bounce back for Sparky, too. I think it was important for him and good for our team.
Are you encouraged to see some of your injured guys starting to skate?
Babcock: Obviously, it is a huge deal for us. For a while there, when we didn’t have the four of them, it was different. Now it is just the two of them. On the backend, there is no question about it. Those guys are both good puck movers and players and we miss them. The NHL — we talk about all the positions you want and the goalie, but you need D.
Nylander was missing today from practice. Is it just a maintenance day?
Babcock: I expect him to be available. We just felt that he wasn’t feeling good. He hadn’t been feeling good in the previous games he played anyway, and then we just felt it was best to give him the day today.
How did you like mixing Igor Ozhiganov and Justin Holl in with Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey?
Babcock: Well, it worked better for us. We didn’t play those guys tons of minutes, but just confident people out there talking to them helps. I thought Hains really helped Holler.
There has been a lot of speculation lately and talk on the radio lately about your relationship with Kyle Dubas and people reading into comments you’ve made on the depth of the team and so on.
Babcock: Yeah, I heard that.
Can you verify or speak to that?
Babcock: I didn’t hear anything until I was walking to the press conference in Nashville and Scott handed me it and said, “You better read this.” I said, “I don’t have time, what does it say?” He said, “It’s speculation on some things.”
You know, it is interesting. My first general manager in the NHL was a gentleman named Bryan Murray. One of the first things he told me was, “As a coach and a General Manager, don’t ever let anybody get in between you, and if you do, you’re going to be in trouble.” That relationship is so important. Whatever people speculate or think, I don’t believe that is the case. I know Duby and I talk all the time. We’ve talked about this since this happened.
How would you say it? If my comments, in any way…. Because then I read the article and I don’t read it like that at all. But if any of my comments in any way hurt anybody… and we talked about this the other day with the players. When I come talk to you people, if anybody’s wife is reading it the next day and they feel hurt, then you’ve done the wrong thing. That is not my intent. One of the comments was about depth — depth in the organization. We’ve got to keep improving our depth. We all know it. That’s what Duby is trying to do. Jim Paliafito, our pro scouts, myself… We’re developing players. Sheldon — we’re all trying to do it, so that we can get to be like these teams. Tampa, to me, should be the model of what depth is. It doesn’t matter if you get guys hurt or whatever.
If there was any slap at anybody, it sure wasn’t intended. That’s not what I meant to say. Now, guys live in Toronto, too, right? What else you got?
There is already enough noise around this team, but this morning, Eugene Melnyk went on radio and questioned the defensive depth and if it is good enough to win the Stanley Cup.
Babcock: We’ve got people questioning everything we do. I think the great thing about our organization is that we’ve got so much fan support because we’ve got all of you guys questioning everything we do. I think you get paid to question everything we do and you get paid to sell. I think that is what your jobs are. Whatever you’ve got to do. I don’t spend much time worrying about it.
We’ve got an unbelievable owner here in Larry Tanenbaum and we are blessed to have him. How’s that?
Brendan Shanahan has said he likes difference in opinions in the management group or the decision makers. Can you just maybe talk a little bit about that?
Babcock: I think that’s really important to have. I think people have to think different ways. I also think, publicly, that’s not the idea. Publicly, you know what… I talk to the media twice a day, sometimes three times a day it seems like. There is going to be a shit storm every once in a while. There just is. You’d like to say everything perfect and sometimes maybe you don’t. But the intent…
Duby and my relationship isn’t as good as it is going to be four years from now. Mine with Ken Holland wasn’t as good in my first as it was in my tenth year. Bryan Murray — first wasn’t my third. Or Lou Lamoriello… It takes a while to keep building the relationship. This right here, this opportunity, has been provided for me, and it’ll just make us better.