Mike Babcock addressed the media after his team’s 5-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators on the opening night of the 2019-20 season.
On Tavares receiving the C and the team’s leadership group:
He’s the kind of man, he’s the kind of leader, and he’s the kind of person that our guys look up to and he does everything right every day. He is all about winning. He is not about John. He is about winning. He is a great example to all of us. When I ask him a question, he doesn’t think, “Is this good for John?” He thinks, “Is this good for the team?” He is a man. It’s great.
I think it’s great for Mitch and Matty, too, as they grow in their leadership roles. Obviously, Morgan Rielly is a huge leader here and sets the tone with enthusiasm and work ethic as well. We’re lucky. Hyman and Muzzin are big-time leaders on this team, too, and they’re in our leadership group. We’ll ideally add more and more to that because it is important to have lots of guys all in.
If you are going to have success, it’s not the manager or the coach or the President. The players take control of the team and they set the accountability. That is how you win in the end. It took us a while to get to this point, but we’re excited we’re at this point.
On whether this is an important point for the organization:
There is no question. I know we are all in a hurry. Instant gratification is society today and it’s obviously Toronto and hockey. Reality is you just keep plugging away and doing good things and good things will happen. We are still going to have lots of moments this year where you’re wondering what the heck is going on, but you just keep grinding and doing good things. That makes you better.
On the team’s win:
I thought it was a perfect start for them. You come out, we’re nervous. They bang it in our net. Then we get three power plays in a row and we are borderline dysfunctional — just tense. We couldn’t move. We didn’t skate good. Once we got through that down 1-0 and came out again, I thought we played.
I thought we played pretty good in exhibition at the end — not at the start, but at the end — and the fact that we had the puck a lot and spent lots of time in the offensive zone… We shoot it and get it puck, we seemed to be working really hard… I was real impressed with the Kerfoot line tonight with Mikheyev and Moore. Those guys were good.
Everyone knows Matthews was good. I know that, too. But it’s those other guys that create depth that allow you to be better that I think are important for us.
On Matthews’ game and the team’s overall progress:
He’s that kind of player, right? He has a chance to be a generational player. What can you learn from John? You can learn from John just working every day — working hard, winning every puck, working hard in practice.
That is the challenge for our group. We have to get better. We understand. We’ve laid it out really clearly where we need to get better. We evaluated ourselves after the exhibition and we’ll continue to do that. Everybody knows what we’ve got to do to have success. We talk about it on a daily basis. We are trying to work towards it. That doesn’t mean it is always going to go good, but at least we have a plan.
On Ilya Mikheyev scoring in his first NHL game:
He is good. He is way better than you’ve seen. He’s got to get comfortable and he’s got to know what direction he is going and all of that stuff. When he understands the language better… Don’t get me wrong, he is smart and he understands good, but it is going so fast on the ice and you’re talking to guys — it’s hard for him.
I mean, he is an unbelievable penalty killer. Holy mackerel, can he fly, that guy.
On whether Nik Lidstrom and John Tavares’ leadership personalities are similar:
I always hate comparing anyone to Nik Lidstrom — seven-time Norris Trophy winner and one of the finest human beings you’ll ever meet. But John Tavares is his own person and does things his own way. He is incredible to be around because he makes you a better coach. He is not scared to tell you things. He’s not shy. He is not scared to tell the guys things. I don’t know if he ever suffered from peer pressure in his life, but he sure doesn’t now. He does the right thing on a daily basis. He wants to be great. He wants to get better.
Good man. Good family man. Pretty impressive for us to have a guy like that. I think it helps the other guys become what they want to be, too. We are all trying to get better each and every day and we are all trying to become the people we want to be. That is a good example.
On Andrew Brewer and Jordan Bean’s video work to call in for a challenge on Ron Hainsey’s offside goal:
Beanbag was on that. Right away, he was talking. It was one of those ones where the linesman wasn’t in the way. Lots of times on that play, the linesman is in the way and you can’t tell. Obviously, that is a big play in the game right there. An important play for us, and those guys were on top of it. Brew and Beanbag got it right, which is important.
We talked before. They obviously don’t want to be under the gun, so we went through. The challenges this year, you’ve got to know. You’ve flat out got to know. There is no pretending you know. You better know. We talked about that and we got it right.