Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the final roster cuts, Rasmus Sandin making the team, the team’s depth, and expectations for the start of the season.
Almost 12 players are different from a year ago. Is this a testament to the club’s depth, its offseason work, and it’s overall evolution?
Babcock: Obviously, there has been quite a bit of change and we’ve addressed that right from the start of camp. We’ve got to get up to speed. I think that is as a coach and as players. I know a couple nights when I’ve run the bench, I didn’t even know… I mean, I don’t know what some of the guys can do. You’re learning that as you go. But we had a pretty good training camp. Now we are obviously like 30 other teams — we’re optimistic. We are excited and looking forward to getting going.
How are you going to use Timothy Liljegren?
Babcock: I don’t know that yet. What I am going to do is practice every day and see where it goes. There are a number of steps, obviously, to getting to the start of the season, and this is one of them.
What did Sandin do to earn his opportunity here?
Babcock: He played good. He played good over a time — not just last year and at the start of the year but through exhibition and every night. The more situations we put him in, the more he just played well.
Now, these decisions are just all for the start. We just keep going and see what happens. As long as it keeps going the right direction, this will be a real good thing for him. We’ve got to understand he is a good player and his development is very, very important for us. Winning is very important for us, but his development is as well.
What benefit is there for the team to have a guy who has that cerebral on the third pair moving the puck for you?
Babcock: I just think that with any good teams, they have good depth on the backend and players that can move the puck but players who can defend, too. Keeping people away from your net is a huge part of the game, and getting to their net. When we look at our D, we look at it with both things in mind.
Given all the choices you had, how tough was it to arrive at this final roster?
Babcock: The interesting thing is that truth in hockey today isn’t necessarily the truth tomorrow. Each day, you just keep going on and you try to make the right decisions based on what has happened so far. But they’re not easy decisions. I think decisions are to come. We’ve still got Dermy and Hyms. We’ve got lots of decisions here.
Having a leadership group like you have here helps, but how beneficial is it for Rasmus to have someone like Morgan Rielly here as someone who made the jump as a teenager?
Babcock: I think it is really good. When I look at Mo, I look at John Tavares — they’re guys who have been through all of this as young guys and they’ve been through it now as they’re getting older. They struggled at times in the league and have been good at times in the league. I think those are real good references.
The other thing is they’re real approachable people. I think a lot of guys in our locker room are. I really believe we have a good leadership group here with good, solid people that are approachable and are going to help young guys get better.
In the training camp games, how much of a difference did you see in the power-play units and on faceoffs?
Babcock: That is a good question. We’ll see when we’re playing against real teams and real centers. We’ll know more about it. It didn’t seem to help the power play do much today in practice.
Do you really monitor guys vs. guys on faceoffs?
Babcock: For sure. We have everybody who has done it against everybody in the league and what they’ve done in the last five… Analyzed to death. That is what [Andrew Brewer’s] job is.
Is the start of every season different or is it kind of the same thing for you?
Babcock: No, I think it is really different. The other thing about it is it’s really exciting. it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. What you’ve done is you’ve tried to — we’ve made a ton of changes in the offseason with the players and coaching staff and with how we are approaching things with what we are doing. You’d like to see what works and what doesn’t. Some of the things that we thought we were going to do we’ve gassed already. It just goes to show you: If it doesn’t lead to winning and success, there is probably not much sense in doing it. But there are some things we think we’ve really improved already in a short period of time and we hope to keep the focus on those areas.
Anything surprise you with the depth you have at forward? You mentioned a lot of new faces on the third and fourth lines.
Babcock: I’d say to you that we’d like to think we have depth. We’re going to find out if we have depth. We definitely do through nine. Now we want to have it through 15 or 16. But your depth is measured each night when you play. It is not measured in preseason. It is measured as you go on and get in against teams and you also get injuries. You see how it goes. I think everybody right now in the league thinks they’re really deep. A month from now, we are going to know more about our depth and where it’s going. We tried t set up our Marlies to really help our team so that guys can be called up and help when we get into spots that you knock on wood won’t happen, but that’s just the reality of the league.