Babcock on Phaneuf, Kadri, and 2015-16 expectations

Toronto Maple Leafs' new head coach Mike Babcock laughs during a press conference in Toronto. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

Mike Babcock, with an eight-year, $50-million contract in hand, is ready. Excited, frightened, and ready to embark on Year 1 of a quest to return some glory to the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise.

The Maple Leafs’ new head coach spoke with Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun for a two-part series about his expectations for the Maple Leafs, captain Dion Phaneuf, Nazem Kadri, and shed some light on the decision making process that led him from Hockeytown to Hogtown.

Listen Live: Mike Babcock will join Dean Blundell and Co. as a guest Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan

The Maple Leafs finished 2014-15 30-44-8, falling short of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes but walking away from the 2015 draft with a plethora of intriguing prospects. Babcock knows what’s in store for the short-term future.

“We want to be a team that comes to training camp well-prepared,” Babcock tol Zeisberger. “We want to establish a structure and a strong work ethic. We’re going to build that through the exhibition schedule. We want to be a team that gets better every day. That’s my expectation. Are there going to be ups and downs? There always are. But to me, we are going to be very process-oriented and try to get better.”

Much of the responsibility for fostering the structure and work ethic Babcock speaks of will fall to the Maple Leafs’ leadership group. Phaneuf was oft-maligned during a difficult 2014-15 campaign. Babcock is a believer in his captain.

“He’s going to have the best year he’s had in a long time,” Babcock said. “He’s prepared hard all summer. We’re going to help him with his game and he’s going to help us by being the player he’s capable of being. And we’re going to look after him. We’re not leaving him hung out to dry, either on the ice, with the media or in town.”

Babcock also detailed a plan to give Phaneuf a reprieve from media duties once a week.

As for Kadri, Babcock notes that incidents of sleeping in and missing team meetings are history. He’s pleased with Kadri’s summer, which involved him moving back to London, Ont., to stay with his family.

“My expectation for him is that he’s as prepared as he’s ever been when training camp starts and he gets better each and every day. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Babcock said of the 24-year-old forward. “It’s going to be a process.”

The decision to leave the Red Wings was not an easy one for the 52-year-old coach. Familiarity and a track record of success would have made remaining in Detroit an easy decision.

“It wasn’t one day, it was 12 days,” Babcock said. “It was a nightmare. An absolute nightmare. I know why guys don’t do it.”

Money, a challenge, and what’s best for his family led him to Toronto.

“Don’t get me wrong. Was money involved? Absolutely,” Babcock admitted. “But at a certain point, it doesn’t matter any more. With the Red Wings, with Buffalo, with Toronto, it didn’t matter as much any more, it mattered what was the best fit for me and my family.”

Babcock will make his return to Detroit on Oct. 9, and he certainly understands the gravity of the situation. “In Detroit it’s going to be emotional,” he said. “They have a really good program there. I was a big part of that program. I loved my time there. I chose to move on.”

Read part I of Zeisberger’s interview here and part II here.

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