The Toronto Maple Leafs are nothing if not traditionalists, so you have to expect their video interviews to tend towards the dull. This is fine, to be honest. Some teams have turned their multimedia offerings into manufactured cuteness that grates on the nerves very quickly.
There are rules to watching these videos. First, you have to accept that the questions are often dull and uninspired. That might be because on the rare occasions the questions are provocative, hockey fans react with so much outrage that media outlets might wonder why they’d bother.
The questions are often leading. They could just as easily say give me a quote on how Joe is the greatest. But the pretence that these are questions that matter and that anyone listened to the answer is kept up.
Some people break the rules. The biggest rule breaker on the Maple Leafs is Mike Babcock. He will come out and tell you he is giving a prepared answer, he will admit if he’s hedging, he’ll telegraph lies, and he won’t hide when he’s pissed off. He gets to do that. The players are there to bore you with platitudes.
Some players are exceptions. Morgan Rielly is interesting and charming. Connor Carrick is a little more of both those things. Connor Brown talks hockey well. Nazem Kadri makes you wait until after the talking points are done, but some good analysis creeps out. Ron Hainsey has a very dry wit that will confuse people who take everything he says with tremendous seriousness. Frederik Andersen powers through an interview like it’s a set of reps on the weight bench, but he is very forthright.
The first day’s interviews at medicals were horrible. Training camp is when the press blows the rust off too. Friday’s were okay, with Babcock’s being worth listening to. But today is when everyone is in the swing of things.
Always remember though, these videos are edited by the Leafs. They cut anything they disapprove of. And the opening question most of the time.
Here we go with Mike Babcock, hoarse from yelling:
All the reporters at camp have been discussing on Twitter various references to Mike Babcock calling up players during the off-season. And I don’t usually rag on reporters too much — this is a tough job, but some sure seemed to not grasp this concept at all. Makes me wonder about their bosses.
At first one person asks if Babcock discussed acquiring Hainsey with Rielly. Listen to that off the top, Babcock gives his thoughts on the defence pairs in answer. But the question missed the point of why he was calling.
The discussion returns to it and Babcock says:
I try to touch base with them, and I try to never talk about hockey at all when I touch base with them until later in the summer.
I’ve got young people in my house, and they leave and they like when people talk to them. People like to be talked to and know you care about them. I like our guys. I care about them and want them to do well.
Clear right? This is also very reassuring in an industry that talks about their values but often leaves vulnerable people, some of whom are players, to fend for themselves.
The follow up question is, “You want them to think about you when they’re in the gym?”
Come on. I mean, really, come on, man. At least he didn’t use the phrase “asset value” but, come on.
Everyone laughs at this, but not Babcock; he shakes his head in mystification, and so am I.
Okay back to hockey. He’s asked about usage of Rielly. “Tough minutes” is the term. But essentially the question is will Rielly get the skewed quality of competition usage again that he’s seen for two years now. The answer proves that Babcock could have written my two-part piece on usage determining the Leafs lineups this year in about 150 words.
We plan on having two pairs that can do it [take the tough competition], so it won’t be as big a deal.
Then he expands on this. To be honest, I don’t think the questioner believed his first answer.
I like having two really good pairs so I don’t have any miss-matches that way. You also like to have a “miss” line too. Say you have a match up line, say that’s Naz’s line, but you like to have another group that you can match up against the best people in case you miss. Plus, on the road, you don’t always get what you want, and this way you can get what you need.
Or if you want to read the long-winded version about searching for balance (so you get what you need), questioning the perception around who played the “tough minutes” and who didn’t, and my conclusions (with some help from Bob McKenzie) here they are:
Later on he mentions that in a player’s first camp, he never gives negative feedback. He also repeats the thing no one ever believes that players decide who makes the team. But interestingly, he also admits readily that camp is also where the organization evaluates their own choices in drafting and signing players.
Nazem Kadri is next up, and his interesting comments are about his new line. The pretence that he will play with anyone but Patrick Marleau and Leo Komarov is absent. They have to work on Komarov moving to the right side and the challenge of three left-shots on one line.
Handedness: not just for defenders. The problem here, if you can call it that, is the need to receive a pass on the backhand a lot. My speculation is that a right-shooting right winger might show up on this line against teams where the match up job is less onerous.
They talk about shootouts a lot, so I stopped listening.
The young defenders
Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren talk about playing with each other, so they are both worth a listen:
They can say there’s enough puck to go around all they like, I’m still skeptical of this as a long-term pairing.
The old defenders
Ron Hainsey and Morgan Rielly talk about playing with each other too, but I prefer Hainsey today. Get to know the new guy:
There’s a few more you can watch if this wasn’t enough for you, and they are all available at the Leafs website.
Here’s the scrimmage from today as your reward for reading:
There is another practice and scrimmage tomorrow, and we might have things to say about it! Stay tuned.