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Babcock talks depth assignments, Josh Leivo and more

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The interviews from after the first day’s scrimmage reveal absolutely no firm answers on roster spots, but there are some hints.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 12
Par Lindholm is on the ice today, but Babcock talked about him yesterday.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Mike Babcock

This one starts off interesting. The reporter cites a story about Chicago changing their injury reporting. The supposition offered is that the league is instructing teams to be more forthcoming because of court rulings in the United States that make sports gambling legal. The idea here seems to be that gambling is not fair if information on player health is not detailed and public. However, there is no confirmation that this is a league policy. And this is not the United States of America either.

Many reporters believe that teams should release information about the nature of injuries, and it’s certainly understandable that they and the rest of us might want to know exactly what is going on. However, I don’t see a public right to know something that in any other context would be personal information. Your employer doesn’t release details of your medical state and how that might impact your job performance.

Sometimes I feel like the forms of professional sports journalism so mimic the forms of political coverage (although thankfully no one ever figured the press should stand around while the MPs change clothes) that journalists have assumed they have that public right to know driving their coverage that is the foundation of the obligation elected officials have to be truthful and forthcoming to the press.

Professional sports is called the toy department of journalism for a reason. Hockey is not on a level with the federal government in importance. And yeah, I’d like more then “upper body” or “lower body”, which is what Babcock says he’s sticking with until told otherwise, but I haven’t been convinced by anyone’s claims yet that I’m entitled to it. And, at the end of the day, they can always just lie.

Babcock also talks about the choice to try Zach Hyman on a line with John Tavares, and he doesn’t really say much other than, “sometimes things get old.” So far the Matthews line looks great, so I’ve become convinced Patrick Marleau can work there.

He’s not telling who is playing where in the lineup, but he does give the speech about earning what you get. There’s more on Babcock’s comments later, but first we need to listen to one of the people he talks about.

Tyler Ennis

Tyler Ennis talks a lot in this scrum about how he spent his summer in Toronto working with the Leafs. He seems to have largely talked himself into a job on the team by saying he was going to come to the MCC and work with the team staff to get ready to play.

If you want a PR lesson on how a player should talk about himself and the team, this is a good one. Ennis, who is 28, is not new to this game, and he knows what to say and how to say it. He does say he felt the fit in Minnesota wasn’t right from the start, but he firmly calls that a learning experience.

Ennis is currently filling in for William Nylander on the Auston Matthews line. Where he might fit after Nylander is back on the team is not a question Mike Babcock is answering right now.

With Ennis on that line, Josh Leivo is playing with Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown. I think we all can see that that duo is two-thirds of the third line. Who will be the left wing there is an open question. The candidates seem to be Leivo, Andreas Johnsson and Ennis.

Going back to Babcock’s scrum for a moment, these are his comments on that situation:

A reporter says:

Josh Leivo said that playing with a regular line is going to help him. The last couple of camps, he hasn’t really played with regular guys. He thinks that’ll give him a step up.

Babcock was laughing, and not in a fun way by the second sentence there, and his first answer is, “Okay.” Then he elaborates:

No one plays with regular lines in camp. You come here and you just play, and you usually get what you earn. This game is usually pretty fair. Sometimes, even if the coach ain’t too smart in the short term, usually in the long term he gets it figured out.

A little later, after emphasizing that he’s not making a lineup out the first scrimmage, he’s asked about Ennis and what he has to prove.

These guys are guys that want a bigger piece and want to be important, again in Ennis’s case, and in Leivo’s case for the first time.

In terms of presenting yourself to the public, Ennis wins this round. And there’s no Josh Leivo scrum, so I don’t know for sure if the reporter is quoting an Athletic story, possibly not very well, or something else. But while I don’t think how you talk about your training camp plans is going to either get you or lose you a job, I do think that Leivo needs to impress on his own, and not because he’s playing with a better centre this training camp.

Frankly, if he’s been the obvious best player on the line in these past camps with the “non-regular” players, he’d already have a roster spot. And given the comments Babcock makes about Par Lindholm, who he is impressed with, and the assumption that Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen will stick with him on the fourth line, that spot on the Kadri line right now looks more like it belongs to Ennis than it does Leivo.

It will be weeks before any of this is firmly decided, but that reporter did Leivo no favours, and perhaps Leivo did himself none, depending on what he actually said.

Auston Matthews is much more cheerful after being on the ice. I think he likes playing hockey more than talking about it.

Ron Hainsey is not as much fun as he usually is. But he does make a good point about all the defenceman in the pipeline.

Nazem Kadri is very good at talking systems, and he only does it some of the time. He’s always worth listening to for that.

John Tavares is a little more relaxed as well, but he’s mostly just telling you that Matthews and Marner are good players, which I think we knew.

There will be another scrimmage today with the Kadri led team vs the Tavares led team, so Matthews and friends get the day off.

Leafs Nation Network (Leafs TV) has coverage of the scrimmage highlights and interviews at 7 p.m.