Head coach Mike Babcock met with the media after the first on-ice scrimmage on Friday, discussing:
- Ron Hainsey and Patrick Marleau’s foot speed in their late 30s
- A possible fit for Marleau next to Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov
- The decision to invite Roman Polak to camp on a PTO
- Martin Marincin’s battle for a roster spot
- First impressions on Aaltonen, Rosen, Borgman
We talked about teaching and structure yesterday, Mike. How successful were you in that on this first day?
Babcock: We’re going to find out over time, obviously. We have a plan that we want to implement over a few days and lots of things — 80% — are the same as we did last year. Some things are new in the nuances of what you’re doing. You’ve got a new group. I don’t think you ever know until you get your own players together, to tell you the truth. It was a fun day; I had a fun day out there and talked to lots of kids. They seem to be in good spirits and good shape, so it was fun.
Do you almost become ageless in this league when you’re as quick as Patrick Marleau is?
Babcock: Well, I mean, it sure has not affected him. Hainsey is the same. They’re real good skaters. The thing that leaves you in this league is your legs, obviously. You can’t make the plays because you can’t get there quick enough. Those guys aren’t in that situation at all.
When you get a new guy like that, what is your process and mindset for finding a spot for him and seeing who he works with?
Babcock: Well, it’s just basically getting him in here and getting him going. We’re not worrying about that too much. We’ve got all of September to figure that out. We’ve got to be prepared for October 4th when we play Winnipeg. Over that period of time, we’ll have lots of opportunity to figure things out. The other thing that happens to you in exhibition each year is injuries. Often, you find the best things out of stuff you never thought of trying because of injuries. We’ll work it out over time. They all want to get up and running. When you are 37 years old and you are at your 19th or 20th camp, you’re getting yourself ready to play October 4th.
A right-handed shot with grit, Roman Polak has a shot to make it. Are you amazed he’s back as quickly as he is?
Babcock: Roman worked hard all summer to get prepared. He reached out to us — him and his agent — and wanted an opportunity, so we’re happy to give him that. Polie earned that opportunity by playing hard for us over the last two years. We’ll see where that takes us.
Some guys didn’t do the workouts today — Roman and Nazem. Can you address that?
Babcock: Roman did the skate, and Nazem didn’t skate at all. Nazem’s got a… I don’t know what you call it, but he should be good to go tomorrow. Zaitsev didn’t skate here today and I think he’s a couple of days away. I don’t think he’s going tomorrow.
What is different about Martin Marincin when he’s confident?
Babcock: Marty, I think, is an elite defender. He can really skate and pass the puck and does a lot of things, but he’s never really grabbed a hold of it yet. What happens in the league if you don’t eventually grab a hold of it is you’re not in the league anymore. That’s a tough spot. You’ve got to decide and feel good about yourself. What gives you confidence? Training all summer gives you confidence, doing good things gives you confidence.
Life is about earning confidence. Obviously, as a parent, you just put your kids in as many situations as you can so they can earn confidence. If you like ice hockey and you keep jamming him in and he gets beat down every day, you’re probably not building confidence when you should find something to do. It’s the same in our league. I can’t do it. They’ve got to find their way. We can give them all the opportunities. Marty is in a situation, now with Rosen here and Borgman here and Carrick here, where he is battling for a job. He knows it. One thing about the players is they’re smart. They know what’s going on. He knows the situation he’s in, so he’s got to have a good training camp.
How much do you know about [Borgman and Rosen]?
Babcock: I mean, they’re good players. We like them and think they have an opportunity to help our team.
Is Polak at the level in terms of fitness where getting into a preseason game is a possibility?
Babcock: I don’t know that. Polie is going to decide on that. Polie didn’t want to scrimmage today; he just wanted to do the skate. The way I look at things in life is real simple: You do good things for us and you work hard for our us, we’ll bend over backward for you.
In terms of Gauthier and his progression?
Babcock: I don’t know. The Goat has got to be ready. Let’s get going. That’s why we have therapy people — so I don’t make those decisions.
Seeing guys come over from the Swedish league over the years, what is the biggest challenge to adapting to the NHL in your mind?
Babcock: Each guy is different. I think it’s an individual thing. In saying that, most of them know how to play. These guys here can really skate and have good hockey sense. You can see that the nuances of how we play, they’ll pick up here in a short period of time. The biggest thing for guys that arrive and are trying to make the team for the first time is you don’t want to get injured. You don’t want to fall behind. You want to be out there every day. You want to be hearing what’s going on and learning. Staying healthy is key.
What did you like about Aaltonen?
Babcock: [Jim Paliafito] liked him. I just was there to support him. They just send me the clips. I don’t see those guys live. They decide. But he’s a competitive guy. I was impressed with him today. He’s way quicker than I thought. Early in training camp, he didn’t look very quick to me. He always made plays and was always strong on the puck. Today, he was way quicker and more competitive. I was impressed by him today.
Some of the lines were the same from last year. Some were new. Is that going to be a work in progress?
Babcock: Yeah, for sure. I think we’re just going to figure it out. Brownie played real good for us last year and today we had him with Aaltonen. I kept Matthews’ line together and the Bozak line. I thought Matthews’ line was really good for us in the playoffs last year. Bozak’s group had a good year. We’ll see. Naz had a big jump for us last year. Those ten guys are in the mix there with Komarov — we’ve only got nine spots for ten of them. That’s the problem, but that’s a good thing to have.
Is that part of the reason Leo was on the right? To see if there’s another option?
Babcock: I told [Marleau] as soon as he got here, in the scrimmage he’s been with those guys [Kadri and Komarov] basically the whole time. If that could work for us, that would be really good. I’m not saying it’s going to, but we’ll talk about those things and just keep talking about them. These guys are going to decide who they play best with. I’m just going to watch.