Mike Babcock addressed the media after his team’s practice on Thursday, discussing Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner’s progress towards a return to the lineup, Tyler Ennis getting a Masterton nomination, and the importance of Gardiner to the team.
What is the impact when you see Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott slowly getting back to health and the impact that can have on your club?
Babcock: We’ve seen that these guys are good players. A lot of the GMs I’ve had over the years have said, “You should always get a guy hurt about two weeks before thinking about trading him, and then find out what the value is to his team.” You find out sometimes you love him a little bit more than you thought. I don’t think that is the case with these guys because we know they’re good players, but not only do they play good defense, they do good things offensively on the blue line and they keep the play alive and generate offense for your forwards.
There are two parts to the equation. You’ve got to be able to keep it out of your net. All you’ve got to do is look at the standings and look at goals for and goals against. If you’re minus, you are not in the playoffs. It is so simple it is not even funny. We can do all of these stats that we all think are important… That’s important. Getting in the playoffs is important, and those guys do that. They are on the plus side of the ledger and do a good job.
What kind of process does Jake face trying to get up to speed now that he’s back skating?
Babcock: Well, he’s not a kid. He has been around a long time. I think that’ll help. I thought today was good. Even though he wasn’t involved in the contact, he was involved in a lot. We have been planning this for a while with the way the schedule is. We’ll get one more after the season before the playoffs start, but it was a good hard-working day for us. I thought Jake was out there with the guys enjoying it. Even when he did the 1-on-1s, even though he wasn’t involved in the contact, it was still good for his quick-twitch and getting back up to speed.
Is Travis on track to get back Saturday?
Babcock: He hasn’t been cleared yet. They never give you that get-out-of-jail-free card until the last second, but he is wearing black. He’s ready to go.
Jake has been pretty durable during his career from a mental standpoint. After a month away from the team….
?Babcock: Yeah, I am not worried about him. I say it all the time, though: We think he is a really good player. He generates offense. He makes unbelievable plays. He is good defensively. We’ve missed him and it was very apparent. When he is ready to play, he is going to play.
Joseph Woll was here at practice today. What is the plan for him?
Babcock: Yeah, the plan for him is to hang around the group. He’s still got some school obligations he’s got to handle, but hang around the group and get to know the goalie coach and see what NHL players are like and what NHL life is like. Get himself ready for next year.
Can you comment on Tyler Ennis getting the Masterton nomination?
Babcock: A real good guy and a real good person. I think he’s had a real good year. He kind of clawed his way back. You’re always happy for a guy like him. He’s got unbelievable staying power. He feels good about himself. He has good skill level and has been a real good teammate all year long. He is a good guy to have and we’re proud of him. He should be proud of himself.
Connor Brown has been an important on this team defensively and killing penalties, but for a guy who knows he can score and wants to score, what does a game like last night do for his confidence?
Babcock: It’s the same for all guys who haven’t scored for a while. Whether you’re Naz or whether you’re him, it is huge for him. We talked Enzo — Enzo made good plays on both goals. Good east-west plays and then a real good physical forecheck on Gudas to set up the second one. Real good for Brownie. We know he’s a good player. He’s scored his whole life. There is no reason for him not to score. Sometimes you get in your own way when you are pressing too hard. This should help him breathe.
Getting Jake and Travis back would be a huge boost to the defense, but how do you feel the whole group can tighten up and support Freddy?
Babcock: I’ve said it — Freddy has got to do his part and we’ve got to do our part. Last night, I thought we really had the game going. In the second period, we got off kilter for whatever reason and didn’t play as good. We had to battle our way back and get a point, which is always good on the road. But you don’t want to be giving teams momentum for no reason, and we did that with our play in the second period. We didn’t help Freddy out enough in that second period.
Any timeline for Jake?
Babcock: Not that I know of. I just talked to Jake here now. He said he felt good. They’re ready for tomorrow. We’re doing specialty teams tomorrow, so there won’t be as much for him tomorrow. We’ll use our development team for that. Still, he is progressing and ideally he will be back playing before the end of the regular season.