Mike Babcock addressed the media on Monday at training camp, discussing the first two games of preseason starting tomorrow, the competition for the backup job and the bottom pairing jobs on defense, and Rasmus Sandin’s bid for an opening-night spot.
You look at the depth you have at this camp, especially in some of those fourth-line positions, and might that be the most competitive group? The third defense pairing and those final three or four spots?
Babcock: Figuring it out is what camp is all about. Over time, it gets to be a mental grind. Even today is harder than the day before. Usually, the guys that are better come to the forefront. We just keep watching each and every day. Can they play on the power play? Can they penalty kill? What role can you provide? We’ll see what happens and go from there.
Is there an update on Michal Neuvirth?
Babcock: Not really. What I mean by that is he wasn’t feeling good body-wise the day before. They kept him off today. Obviously, it’s not ideal for him. If he wants to battle for a job, he’s got to be in a position to do that. But he’s also got to be healthy, too.
How important is the play of the number-two guy in getting Frederik Andersen rest?
Babcock: That is the great thing about managing his workload. Number one, you’ve got to be in a spot to manage it; in other words, you’ve got to be in a good spot in the standings. Number two, the guy you go to has got to give you a chance to win. That’s what we are looking for. We thought Hutch did a good job for us last year. He is here. We brought in other guys for the same opportunity and we’re going to watch and see what happens.
How hard is it in the preseason to get the minimum number of veterans in and see the people you want to see?
Babcock: It’s not hard at the start at all. When you try to put it more NHL than AHL in your second week, then it’s hard to get enough guys in the one game.
Is Jason Spezza a really good role model in that he is a guy who was a star and is accepting his new role gracefully as he gets older?
Babcock: Well, I think the big thing is with Spez here — we’ve talked tons about it in advance — is that there is a role here for him. But he’s got to be able to do it. We’re going to see over exhibition whether he likes it and whether he wants to do it. We’re just in the process of feeling him out and he’s feeling us out right now. It is probably a different camp that way for him, but he loves hockey.
What has impressed you about Hutchinson since he’s been here?
Babcock: Big. Good man. Likes hockey. Good person. Doesn’t get in the way. Makes his teammates better. Good guy.
Did you want to get Ceci and Harpur into one of these two games to get their first game against Ottawa out of the way?
Babcock: I never really thought about that. We put them in two groups. We didn’t know who was playing game #1. Rich [Rotenberg] and the sports science group did all the fitness group on all the guys. Whoever, as a team, won the fitness test got to pick.
Apparently Pierre Engvall did well in that?
Babcock: Yeah. Each year, we try to… Obviously, it’s a huge priority to come to camp in shape and maintain it and grow. He’s a fit guy.
You talked about the importance of guys embracing being a Leaf. Mitch talked today a bit about the fact that a couple of teams gave him an offer sheet this summer and he said he didn’t even want to… He said it never even entered his head and this is where he wants to be. How important is that?
Babcock: I think it is huge. I said that to you a long time ago. Mitch wants to be a Leaf for life. That is why, in the end, you’re pretty comfortable it is going to happen. In the end, though, Mitch would tell you that the business part of it wasn’t very much fun. Knowing what you want and where your heart is, I think, is important.
We wouldn’t have John Tavares here if he hadn’t felt that way. Mitch feeling that way is important, too. You’ve also got to get guys who weren’t born in Toronto to want to be Leafs, too.
What is going to tell you if Rasmus Sandin is ready?
Babcock: Great question. I’m just going to keep watching him.
How much are you enjoying the competition this camp?
Babcock: I am enjoying it, but I want someone to be better than someone else. I don’t want, in the end, to have to decide. I want them to decide. I want it to be so obvious you all know, too.
Does Sandin’s versatility help him? He was saying he feels pretty comfortable on the right as well.
Babcock: I didn’t ask him that. I am just going to keep watching. It just happened. We just thought he was the better of the two on his pair today play on that side.
Option B is pretty good to go back to the Marlies and play top-line minutes if that is the case?
Babcock: Whatever is going to be best for him, in the end, is the decision we will make.