TSN’s Darren Dreger does a bit at the IIHF World Championships where he interviews people in a café setting. Today’s has the Eiffel Tower in the background, and Mike Babcock in the foreground.
Babcock has some set lines, verses of the hymn book he sings over and over, and when you watch enough of his media scrums, you can learn to sing along. Not much of what he says is a surprise, and he doesn’t drop coy hints. Except this time, he did.
First off, let’s get to why he was in Paris in the first place. As Dreger says, not every NHL coach hops over to Europe for Worlds very often. This is Babcock’s second trip as coach of the Leafs, as he was in Russia last year as well. And of course, he hopes to never be free to go again.
Babcock’s answer is that one thing he wants to do is support Jim Paliafito, the Director of Player Evaluation, or the man at the top of the scouting staff food chain just below the Director of Hockey and Scouting Operations Reid Mitchell. “He’s been over here all year, grinding, trying to find players.”
Babcock refers to the work of the scouting department as “breathing life into our team.” The Leafs have a big department with many European scouts in it, but if Paliafito has spent the year in Europe, it is a sign that the Leafs are looking to add via free agency like they already have with Nikita Soshnikov, Nikita Zaitsev and Miro Aaltonen. (Neither Babcock nor Dreger ever mentioned Aaltonen, by the way. He’s the forgotten man of the Leafs.)
Most of what he has to say about his current players — Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and others, nearly all the others — was familiar and uniformly positive. He makes a good point that most of the returning players on the team had career years.
But it’s off-season, and a fan’s heart turns to new blood. It’s obviously the real purpose of Babcock’s visit to Paris, not seeing Marner have fun with his young linemates. Babcock can’t talk about the Leafs for five seconds without turning to the topic of depth, injury luck that got them into the playoffs, and depth some more.
He just comes out and says, “That’s why we’re here. We’re here trying to find players to fill in the holes to make our team better.”
Dreger tries to pin Babcock down on his wants and needs. It was not a question that seemed to take Babcock by surprise, and he had a bit ready.
You’d like to think there’s a tree in your backyard, and you just go in and you pluck that right-handed D-man who can play 25 minutes off and you put him right on your team. Or you pluck another heavy guy to play up front. It doesn’t work like that.
Well, no kidding. Except when it comes close, like with Zaitsev. I don’t get the sense listening to that, or to his later comments about Zaitsev as part of the top three, that Babcock thinks he scored the really top prize on D last summer. But what he got, the Leafs got for free.
And then, the most secretive team in the league, and the man who says, “that’s a good question,” as a code for, “I’m not going to answer that,” just comes out and says this:
We’ll announce here, coming up, some signings which will be important for our hockey club.
Dreger clarifies that Babcock does not mean RFAs. He means, “Guys that we’re going to add to our group.”
Dreger does not get Babcock to admit he means Europeans, but he coyly makes you think that’s what he means. I think I like Lou’s terse announcements better.
Babcock then does exactly what he and Lou Lamoriello did at the end of the season. After talking about the team, how he wants them to get better, how hard it is to make the playoffs, the note of caution on timing comes out.
He says they are building a team to their plan to be a long-term contender and he won’t be pinned down on timing. But he picks a couple of really interesting examples to talk about to avoid the question. The Edmonton Oilers, with McDavid and their young team and the Anaheim Ducks with two key forwards who they drafted back when Babcock was with the team in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition, that says there isn’t just one way to succeed in the NHL. It doesn’t tell you exactly what “The Plan” is, but it hints at stability and youth both.
Now, back to these signings! We want to know now!
What do you make of his hints? I want to know how he defines a “heavy player”. What do you think he means?
What does "heavy player" say to you?
This poll is closed
Oh, no, he wants a Milan Lucic clone.
Gabriel Landeskog, that’s who he means.
The Bruins would move that Backes contract.
He wants Getzlaf back!