Mike Babcock addressed the media on Sunday at training camp, discussing Kasperi Kapanen’s opportunity next to John Tavares and Mitch Marner, his new assistant coaches, and the bottom-pairing of his defense.
What can Kasperi Kapanen bring to the Tavares line that might replicate what Zach Hyman brings in terms of the speed and initiating the forecheck?
Babcock: We are early in that. The other guys just got here and then we did power play and penalty kill, so we weren’t together. We’ll have a talk and explain clearly what he has to do. Can he do it? I think he looked real good on a line with Kerfoot and Mikheyev. I think that would be a real good line for us and that’s what we’d like, but while Hyman… I think he is going to miss 14 or 15 games, so there is a real good opportunity for someone else. Why not Kappy? Kappy plays hard. He works hard. He’s got to adjust his game a bit, but he can.
Being a father yourself, what has John Tavares gone through these last couple of days?
Babcock: I don’t know what you guys think, but to me, if you’re blessed to have children, it changes your life for the better forever. My whole life is my family. We all get caught up in this, but I can tell you right now, my three kids and my wife are what makes my life go. For John now, you’ve got a lot to think about. He just had a kid. The good thing about him is his mother-in-law is right there and he’s got good help. Your wife gets sick of you fast. You hang around too many days, she wants you on the road. She’s used to you being on the road.
I also think you get to be more of a help when the baby gets to the next stage than you help with this stage, anyway. I think he’ll be excited about it and obviously excited to be with the team, but it’s a different perspective. It’ll be fun for him.
Mitch Marner said it might loosen John up in the dressing room a little bit.
Babcock: See, I don’t see it… I think he is as loose as can be. He’s serious about his craft and he’s very professional and very driven. He knows what he wants. He doesn’t let people get in his way of what he wants done, but he shares himself unbelievably with his teammates and he is a good person who knows what is right and wrong. He’s been through it, unlike these kids, and he has had some tough goes. And yet he is still one heck of a player.
It’s early, but what have your new assistants brought to the table?
Babcock: Well, they’re smart. They work hard. DJ Smith was a real good coach for us and did a real good job with our young D and put in his time and is going to do a real good job with Ottawa. Jim Hiller and I were together for five years and we had a discussion at the end of the year that he wasn’t getting to be a head coach hanging with me. We talked to a number of head coaches in the league and he had lots of opportunity. He is a real good coach. We decided that would be best for him.
These two guys — I’ve known [Dave Hakstol]. Hak played at the Red Deer Rustlers when I coached at Red Deer College. It’s not like we were friends — we weren’t friends at all — but I watched him then and I’ve known him following through. He played in the I. He had to survive as a d-man in the I, and he is a real good coach. He got in at the United States Hockey League and got in at college. Now he has been in the NHL and has been a head coach and he knows. Very detailed. Very intelligent. Very driven. Very focused. He’ll be good for our D.
The other side of that — I told [Bob Boughner] a few years ago as soon as I got to know who [Paul McFarland] is I was going to hire him when they couldn’t afford him. Real good faceoff guy. Real good power-play guy. They had the number-two power play in the league last year. I think he has a good demeanor about him.
We’ve all got to grow together. What I like about when new people come is that they’ve got a ton of new ideas. You take what went on in Philly and what went on in Florida and what they’ve seen in other places, and you combine it with yourself, and you’ve got to try to make it new. I think it is good for the players, too. They’ve got a new voice, a new way, a different term, different thoughts on the power play and penalty kill. We all need to get better and they are going to help us.
Can you put in perspective what it’s been like being here [in Newfoundland] and what is going on in the parking lot now?
Babcock: Well, it’s awesome. I was fortunate when I was in Detroit. We went to Traverse City and it was much the same way. I really thought Halifax for us — three and four years ago — was the same way. Sometimes, when you do it too close to Toronto, they’ve seen us. They’re used to us. They don’t worry about it. Here, they appreciate you and we appreciate them.
Where were we last night? I don’t know where the place is or what area that is there, but honest to God, it is one of the… The restaurant is good, but the scenery! We have so many things in our own country here — we travel all over, but in our own country — and it’s great to see it.
The other thing about the people here: They’re happy and they appreciate you. They’re good for you.
Are you coming back next year?
Babcock: I’d come back any time they want.
Are you any closer to figuring out your third pairing on defense?
Babcock: No. I’d love to tell you I knew. We’re just going to keep on watching. No idea. That’s the truth. I know who four are. You guys do two, though.
What do you think about Mitch Marner’s first day? He’s got a big smile on his face and he got a big ovation.
Babcock: There you go. Just being here and being a hockey player. When you are doing the business side of things and you’re not a business guy, you don’t enjoy it very much. It’s not easy for anybody. We are pumped he is here. He gets the weight off his back and he can get going and feeling good about himself and going from there.
If someone like Auston has the hands like he has and the stick that he has, is there any consideration at all for the penalty kill?
Babcock: I talked to him about that two years ago and his thought was he’s never done and doesn’t plan on doing it. We are going to be able to get him — especially without Naz here — and Johnny more than their fair share of, I’m pretty sure, of what’s coming.