Leafs brass urges cau­tion

Bab­cock, Lamor­iello warn East is a tough con­fer­ence and play­offs not a given

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY

CORN­WALL STAN­DARD -FREE­HOLDER

TORONTO — The Maple Leafs be­gin the fran­chise’s 101st sea­son with a course in Re­al­ity 101.

MikeBab­cockandLouLamor­iello were at the lectern Thurs­day, both Stan­ley Cup win­ners who know that the team’s 95 points last sea­son, a 26-point jump for­ward, was still just one point bet­ter than the Light­ning and the Is­landers, who both missed the play­offs.

It could be that, in­stead of a step up, th­ese Leafs go home af­ter 82 games, an­other haz­ard on the notso-straight path to a Stan­ley Cup for many young teams who learn the hard way. And that stum­ble would come with the trum­peted ad­di­tions of Pa­trick Mar­leau, Do­minic Moore and Ron Hain­sey.

“When you go through all the teams in the East, you say, ‘they’re bet­ter, they’re bet­ter and they’re bet­ter,’ ” Bab­cock re­marked Thurs­day at the open­ing of train­ing camp. “Ev­ery team that’s meet­ing with the press to­day thinks they’re bet­ter.

“We’re all not go­ing to make the play­offs, so let’s just fo­cus on get­ting bet­ter and the rest will look af­ter it­self. What I do know, you have to get out of the gate in the first 20 games. Camp is so im­por­tant to get off to a good start.

“I used to say, if you’re play­ing on my birth­day (April 29), you’ve had a good year, that means you’re start­ing the third round. I haven’t seen a third round since I can re­mem­ber.”

Bab­cock coached some great teams in Detroit and Ana­heim, but also thinks he knows what breeds complacency — a sum­mer of travel, golf and leisure that dis­tracts from what play­ers were told in spring exit meet­ings. Bab­cock saw lit­tle of that, how­ever, when he dropped by sum­mer skates at the MasterCard Cen­tre or watch­ing last week’s rookie tour­na­ment.

“What I’ve found is that the hun­grier you are, the more you pur­sue knowl­edge,” the bench boss added. “I think our guys did that this sum­mer. We had lots of re­sources here, with our sports science guys and our skill coaches. Some teams don’t like it much, but we do when play­ers get out­side help to im­prove your game. They’ve done the work, it showed in their fit­ness tests so far and I think it will show this year.”

From Lamor­iello’s an­gle as GM, it was a pro­duc­tive sum­mer, the last quiet one he’ll have be­fore con­tract clouds gather for Wil­liam Ny­lan­der, Aus­ton Matthews and Mitch Marner and the GM gets bom­barded with James van Riems­dyk trade ques­tions.

Lamor­iello signed Con­nor Brown and other RFAs and stuffed the other ros­ter skele­tons back in the closet by re­port­ing Thurs­day that Nathan Hor­ton and Jof­frey Lupul both failed their phys­i­cals, free­ing up al­most US$11 mil­lion in cap space.

He re­peated for the hun­dredth time that Matthews nor any­one else will be cap­tain, and then made the feel-good an­nounce­ment that loyal sol­dier Ro­man Po­lak will get a PTO when on-ice prac­tice be­gins Fri­day in Ni­a­gara Falls, Ont.

“I’m ex­cited, our play­ers are ex­cited, but you have to tem­per that,” Lamor­iello said. “The sea­son we had was real good and it was a good play­off, but we did not win. We’re still into grow­ing. I feel an ex­cite­ment with the play­ers, but it’s un­der con­trol. We will have to wait and see what the end re­sult is.”

The Leafs have the all-im­por­tant goal­tend­ing, with Fred­erik An­der­sen healthy and talk­ing about ap­pear­ing in 65-plus games, af­ter 66 last year, 33 of them wins.

“It’s nice to prove to your­self you can play pretty much ev­ery night,” said An­der­sen, who a year ago was re­cov­er­ing from a leg in­jury and feel­ing like a fish out of wa­ter in his new city. “But (burnout) is not so much what I worry about. It’s up to the coach­ing staff.”

So many doom­say­ers are pre­dict­ing the Leafs are an An­der­sen in­jury away from fall­ing off the lad­der, but Bab­cock sees no rea­son the Dane won’t reach 60 ap­pear­ances and be­yond.

“Sixty and 22 (for back-up Cur­tis McEl­hin­ney)sound­s­like­good­math to me,” Bab­cock said. “We’ll see how healthy he is, if he can go on the back-to-backs. The bet­ter we play, the eas­ier it is on a goal­tender.

“Freddy’s been here, he’s used to you guys, used to his (US$25mil­lion) con­tract, he’s in bet­ter shape than he’s ever been in his life, which is huge for him. He should FRI­DAY, SEPTEM­BER 15, 2017 play a lit­tle more.”

While An­der­sen has a longterm deal, van Riems­dyk faces yet an­other round of trade ru­mours, be­cause it’s sup­pos­edly im­pos­si­ble to bring him back next year and shell out for the kids.

“This is the first time in my ca­reer go­ing through some­thing like this,” van Riems­dyk said. “But as far as that shakes out, we have a big­ger goal as a team. In­di­vid­ual stuff takes a back­seat.”

En­ter­ing his sixth sea­son in Toronto, hav­ing ar­rived when Phil Kes­sel and Dion Pha­neuf were con­sid­ered the nu­cleus of a play­off con­tender, van Riems­dyk is also preach­ing some cau­tion.

“Ev­ery­one starts the year at the same point,” he said. “It doesn’t mat­ter how much buzz or hype or pos­i­tiv­ity you have around your group, you have to go out there and prove it on the ice.” lhornby@post­media.com

MICHAEL PEAKE/TORONTO SUN

Toronto coach Mike Bab­cock walks past backup goalie Cur­tis McEl­hin­ney Thurs­day as the Maple Leafs open train­ing camp at the MasterCard Cen­tre in Toronto.

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