November 28, 2015
TORONTO – Mike Babcock’s hand prints are all over the Toronto Marlies.
With the Toronto organization emphasizing development and attempting to stay patient through a rebuild, Babcock and Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe are working in sync to make sure that any player called up from the AHL can fit right in on the Maple Leafs.
“I talk to Sheldon all the time,” said Babcock. “I follow real close.”
The majority of what Keefe emphasizes with the Marlies is handed down through Babcock – from five-on-five breakouts to power-play setups – so that every player in the organization understands what Babcock and the Leafs are trying to accomplish.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with Mike Babcock and the Leafs staff through the summer and on into training camp and pre-season prep,” said Keefe. “I stay in constant communication with Mike and the staff there.”
Veteran Rich Clune, who is just one-of-two forwards this season to dress for both clubs, has witnessed how it works under both coaches and says it’s a near-identical process and approach regardless of what jersey he puts on.
“Everything’s on par,” said Clune. “I know both coaches are in contact, my understanding is every day.
“Sheldon and (Mike), they have a vision for what their teams sort of look like.”
With Babcock having a major influence on who he wants on his roster, Clune added that the setup makes it easier to jump into the Leafs lineup – and a lot more likely to please the veteran coach in charge of turning around the franchise.
“They want a seamless transition and you certainly don’t want to be a guy who doesn’t know what’s going on with Mike Babcock running the show, just the same as Sheldon Keefe,” said Clune. “(Sheldon) demands focus at all times and he does a great job of preparing the team.”
“First and foremost our job is to prepare players to play for the Leafs, for now and in the future, so the fact our systems are in line help that cause and ease the transition when they go up,” said Keefe. “That all said, this is a different league and different competition so there’s subtle differences but the foundations of the systems are nearly identical.”
Babcock, who took his time bringing up prospects to the NHL while in charge of the Detroit Red Wings, has taken a similar approach with the Marlies and relies on Keefe to prepare the players for when it’s finally time – which won’t be in the near future if Babcock has his say.
“We think we have some kids that are coming and by the time (the 2016 NHL) draft’s over we’ll have more, but they’re just kids and (the NHL) is a man’s league and they have to grow up first,” said Babcock.