Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Tuesday, two days ahead of the series opener in Boston, discussing the trust level in Mitch Marner, the matchup game, Jake Gardiner’s role in the series, and more.
How much can be gleaned from a prescout on a series after seeing the teams play each other 11 times over the course of the last year?
Babcock: I think a lot of this year, though, they didn’t have a lineup and we didn’t have a lineup, so I don’t know much that [matters]. The bottom line is the series is going to start in two days and the team that is most ready to play is going to have success. We really believe we are going to be prepared. We’ve got a lot of people back. We feel we’ll be rested and ready to go. We’re excited about the opportunity. We look forward to going to Boston.
How much has your trust level grown with Mitch Marner over the past season?
Babcock: My trust has never not been with Mitch. You get to the league and you get good in the league and then you get better in the league. You get good defensively and then on the penalty kill. He is a real good player and a real important piece for us. He wants to do his thing. He wants to be the best player in the series.
Did you trust him that he could become that kind of player for you?
Babcock: He earned it. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does a guy play good and then the coach trusts him? I think that is how it works.
What gives you trust in Ron Hainsey at this point in his career?
Babcock: He knows where to stand.
How does that help in a series like this?
Babcock: Well, he doesn’t go minus. He doesn’t get scored on. He knows what to do. He is way better offensively than people think. We never put him in offensive situations. He makes good decisions. He talks to his partner. He’s made his partner…. 1+1=2, but in a partnership that is really good, it might be 2.5 or 3. How’s that?
How resilient of a player has Jake Gardiner been in the time you’ve been around him? He had the Game 7 last year, the injuries…
Babcock: This is what he did: He came out to the media and said he had a tough game 7. So they ran with that for a while. We all lost. We were all there. I think Jake Gardiner is a really good player. I think he is someone that people have decided isn’t a good player and so they pick on him. I can tell you right now that we can’t find another one.
I mean, I guess the way I look at it is that it is really simple for me: I think he is a good player and I am going to play him a lot.
Did he take too much on himself, do you think, after last year?
Babcock: I think everyone should take it on themselves. When you’re a coach, you should take it on yourself. When you’re a player, you should take it on yourself. But I don’t think you’ve got to go and… There is a lot of people here that like to get things going. I don’t think you’ve got to do that. I don’t think you’ve got to feed it. I think it feeds itself. How’s that?
How does this series change for you having John Tavares this year?
Babcock: I think that is part of it for sure. Bozak and van Riemsdyk were real good players. We didn’t have Naz for most of the series. We didn’t have Leo for the series because of injury. When you look at it, we’ve added Tavares and that is one addition, but the addition that we are not talking about is that the guys are a year older. They’ve been through it. They understand. They know how to play defensively. They know how to play better. They’re more confident. I think that is a big part of it as well.
There is no question that Tavares has done some losing. He has figured out that it is not as much fun as winning. The other thing we did is we added Muzzin. When Muzz talked today in the meeting, he is a Stanley Cup champion that is talking. When Ron Hainsey talks, it is a Stanley Cup champion that is talking. To me, that is an important step of growing the whole group. Tavares is an important part but there are lots of pieces.
Bruce Cassidy said this morning that he is going to prioritize speed in his lineup and feels the series is going to take on that kind of [makeup]. What do you make of those types of comments?
Babcock: He has got to look at his team and play the roster that he thinks is best. We are going to do the same here. There will be adjustments as the series goes on. He knows us good. We know them good. There are not a whole lot of secrets. We’ll move on from here.
How much more do you expect at this time of year from guys like Patrick Marleau who have been around?
Babcock: The fountain of youth is going to kick in right here. The great thing about Patty is, when he looks at it, and you lay your career down and you look at it, you say, “I don’t have too many more kicks at the can.” Sometimes we get thinking we’ve got too many kicks at the can and we don’t realize how hard we can really play. There is another level. We can all get to it. You’ve got to figure that out.
You take a look at what is happening everything else in the league and is there a series anywhere that has four centers in it the way this series does?
Babcock: I haven’t even looked at the… We’ve been so busy with ours. Now, once we are done our work here, we’ll have more time to look around. But I haven’t looked at that. I’d imagine every series, the people that are covering it and the people that are in it — the coaches, the players — think that they are in the best series and the players are the best. That is just how you think. You don’t worry about much else going around you.
Obviously, they’ve got real good players. Their big line is elite, elite, elite. Bergeron just knows how to win. He’s just flat out won everything. He knows how to stop on defense. He knows how to free up those other two guys. I think DeBrusk has really come. Chara is 42 years old and knows how to stand in the right spot; a great penalty killer who has got the longest stick in hockey and knows how to win. There are a number of things.
Obviously, they’ve got real good players besides these guys, but those are the guys that I think we have to get through. I think these challenges are important for our group and we are excited to take it on.
Splitting up Nylander and Matthews, can you explain the logic there?
Babcock: It just gives us different ways to look at things. Obviously, we know Kappy and we know Willy. We are going to move those guys around a little bit. We are going to play them the way it is best suited and based on how they play.
How do you see Kadri fitting into that matchup game?
Babcock: I think the biggest thing is they get to decide on the road and then after the first two games we’ll have a better handle and I’ll be able to answer your question.
Having coached Patrice Bergeron, is he almost like an assistant coach out there when things are going on in the heat of battle and the way that he positions players?
Babcock: Well, he’s won. He’s calm. He’s smart. He knows how to play. You don’t win by accident over and over and over again. You’ve figured out the formula. He figured out the formula early. Now we have to.