Hockey season is back, and that means media scrums. Just one note, I found the sound quality on these really variable.

Mike Babcock

The roster has changed a lot for the Leafs, and that’s how this conversation opens. This is what Babcock says he knows for sure:

  • The top four D
  • The starting goalie
  • There are two jobs open with the forwards, three to begin because of Zach Hyman’s injur
  • This camp will decide who gets to be the backup goalie, the bottom pair on defence and the extra forwards./

All of that is what we’ve all been able to figure out for ourselves, but it bears mention that none of those jobs are very crucial. This training camp could rightly be called the minimum salary olympics. And don’t be surprised if just how low a player was willing to go when he signed this summer is a deciding factor for the press box jobs.

Babcock wants the Leafs to play better in their own zone. Don’t we all? He specifically says that Cody Ceci and Jake Muzzin have to carry the defensive load so Tyson Barrie and Morgan Rielly can do what they do.

He says they think they’ve added the sort of depth to prevent injuries depleting the effectiveness of the team the way last year’s defence corps played in the second half of the season.

One ominous note is Babcock’s offhand remark that they might have only 20 players because of cap concerns. It is very, very possible the Leafs run a short roster a lot this season.

When asked about Ceci’s opportunity to remake his career on the Leafs, Babcock says something very interesting. He talks about how new assistant Dave Hakstol, who will be running the defensive side of things, is coming in with no preconceived opinions about any of the players on the Leafs. He’s going to look at everyone with a fresh perspective, and for him Ceci is just one of the list of players he’s going to evaluate.

That said, it is very clear the decision has been made to begin the season with Ceci paired with Rielly and Muzzin with Barrie. So that fresh perspective is only going to go so far.

Now to the winger assignments: Babcock says he doesn’t have anything set in stone, but that while he wants Kasperi Kapanen to start with Alexander Kerfoot (the implication here is clear that Kerfoot is the third-line centre) he will move Kapanen up if Mitch Marner isn’t available. He also opens the door to rearranging Auston Matthews’ line if necessary.

Babcock’s answer to a question that aksed if the heat is on under him is worth listening to mostly for how he restates the question into one about the situation of the team, the strength of the division and how they see themselves. It’s a verbal shot block, done expertly.

Next up is a question about Auston Matthews ice time. I feel like I’ve written that article so many times, I’m not going to repeat the numbers. But Babcock has a lot of positive things to say about Matthews and his drive and his mental growth.

He also, shockingly, admits that he and Kyle Dubas don’t always agree about everything, but they’re excited about the team that’s been built over the summer. He wants to get to it.

Babcock is asked about what he wants in a backup goalie, and he says that load management and ice time are great things to talk about in hindsight, but his priority is to make the playoffs. The implication there is clear as well. The backup has to be able to play or not play to whatever degree works for the team’s benefit.

Kyle Dubas

Dubas begins his very long presser with news on injuries. If you haven’t caught up with who all is at training camp, it’s a lot of people, and the list is here:

Maple Leafs 2019 Training Camp Roster

He says that Joe Woll, who has a broken finger that kept him out of Traverse City, is going to be on the ice this week, and they’ll see how he’s improving. Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman are both rehabbing. And Garret Wilson, who was signed this summer and might have been trying to contend for a job in the call-up or press box range, is out for a while with an injury suffered in training.

As was publicized earlier today, Dubas agreed to take questions on Mitch Marner, but says they will not discuss it anymore after today. This is a VERY GOOD idea, and allows us to stick to hockey when talking about training camp and also insulates the players from having a repeat of the golf tournament media scrums yesterday which amounted to one long rap session on Marner’s contract.

Preach that, Justin. Yes, okay, the reporters want quotes on the story everyone is talking about. But the quotes won’t inform anyone of anything, and the whole exercise doesn’t need to be repeated every day. You can cover the contract and the team; you can do both, you know.

Dubas gives a long “process” hype speech in answer to a question that presented the idea that the Leafs are now his team.

Dubas is asked if he has “provided Mike Babcock with a roster (with everyone present and healthy) that can win the Stanley Cup”. His answer is so pure Dubas, so nerd-world-view, so damn delightful, I’m going to transcribe it all:

I know it disappoints a lot of people, Terry, but I don’t ever look at it as: Can this roster do X. It’s really:  Can this roster give us chances to accomplish those types of things. And can the roster that’s put together at the beginning of the year get better each game throughout and weather different storms and adversities that come its way during the season and roll from there.

Mike has proven he’s a coach capable of winning the Stanley Cup, and he’s been to the finals on two other occasions. I know that the coaching staff and their work ethic and preparation — and adding Paul McFarland and Dave Hakstol — are going to do their part, and I have a lot of faith in the core of the group, and they’re going to do theirs as well.

We’re just going to keep rolling everyday here and try to be the best we can be every day, and hope we get some good fortune and that you step up in key moments and it results in success.

Hey! Reworking the question before he answers it is Babcock’s trick. Also that’s process hype speech number two, and we’re only five minutes in.

I could make up some stuff Dubas says in response to all the Marner questions, and you’d never know. So, if you want to hear him give these reporters their quotes, go for it. There’s no news there.

Dubas gets a question about who will be captain, and he says all the same things that were said a few days ago, and that it’s a tricky job in Toronto, they aren’t in a rush, and he thinks it’s an important thing for the community and the team. He then namechecks “Steve” in a reference to the PR department, so I think that, and the grin on his face, says they have a captain announcement ready, it’s merely a question of timing.

Hundred bucks says it’s Auston (In the event the Leafs don’t name Auston Matthews the captain, this bet is only redeemable on the island of Jersey in person on September 31.)

In discussing the new assistant coaches, Dubas says that Babcock was the lead on deciding on Hakstol, but that he knew that McFarland would be a good choice, and that Babcock would want him. It sounds like that deal was in the bag as soon as McFarland was let go in Florida.

One of the themes of both Babcock’s and Dubas’s remarks is that they want the team and the individuals on the team (and themselves) to be ready to take whatever comes in a season and to keep rolling. I think this is two different points of view on the faltering end to last season where the response to losing Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott to injury was not ideal. It wasn’t just the lack of a player to promote to take meaningful minutes, it was also the lack of response from the rest of the players to “step up in key moments”.

I don’t get the impression that Dubas would ever argue with the idea that he didn’t give the roster enough depth last season. I also think Babcock means it when he talks about everyone’s preparation and professionalism being a part of their success. But instead of talking about that, they spent a lot of time fending off questions that basically amounted to, “Are you guys buddies?” Which is so very soap opera and very not hockey.

I enjoy listening to both Dubas and Babcock. It’s like a free biz school lifestyle enrichment seminar. It makes you question if you’re executing your process every day and also reminds you to just get to it.

Other News Today

John Tavares and his wife had a son yesterday, and Tavares will not fly out today for the start of camp. He is likely to appear on the weekend at some point.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday will feature practices and scrimmages at camp in Paradise, Newfoundland, and there should be some of that available streamed on the Maple Leafs app, and perhaps online. We’ll let you know when that’s confirmed.