TORONTO – Mike Babcock is looking for reinforcements.
With 26 days to go until the NHL’s trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs coach is making no secret of the fact he’s hoping general manager Lou Lamoriello gets down to business.
“You know, the bottom line is it’s our job as a team to put as much pressure as we can on Lou to help us,” Babcock said Wednesday. “The only way you do that – you don’t do it by talking – you do it by playing. Play well, and the better you play, and the more you look like you’ve got a chance, the more opportunity you have for your general manager to help you.”
The timing of those comments is interesting given that Toronto is bursting at the gut with depth options.
Nikita Zaitsev was activated from injured reserve ahead of Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders, giving the team seven healthy defencemen, and Morgan Rielly isn’t believed to be too far off in his recovery from an upper-body injury. The Leafs are also carrying 14 forwards and have a 15th in Nikita Soshnikov (lower body) now participating in practices.
Just as notably, the organization is already at the maximum of 50 total contracts – meaning they’d have to subtract someone before being able to add another player.
It’s pretty clear Babcock wants that to happen.
“Hey, you always can use help,” he said. “Never been on a team that didn’t need more.”
The Leafs sit third in the Atlantic Division coming out of the all-star break and would like to make a push to reel in Boston or Tampa down the stretch and secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Babcock has recently started tinkering with his lineup, scratching veteran winger Matt Martin for a string of games despite the fact he’s the team’s sixth-highest paid forward. The coach had a difficult conversation with Martin earlier this week and will keep him out against the Islanders, his former team.
“No one likes getting bad news – I don’t care who you are,” said Babcock. “The other thing about it is you want everyone on your team to be important and how do you make him important? When you don’t get to play, no matter what you say to a professional athlete … they get rewarded with ice time, period. The rest is lip service no matter what you say. It doesn’t make it any better when you sit down and chat. It still stings. Marty was a big part of that team and he was a big part of our team, but he’s not playing tonight.
“So that makes it hard. It doesn’t make it easy for me. It doesn’t make it easy for him. It’s just the reality of the situation.”
Lamoriello traded futures for a rental player ahead of last year’s deadline when he sent a second-round pick and AHLer Byron Froese to Tampa for centre Brian Boyle.
The Leafs have a decent prospect pool and two second-round picks in 2018 if Lamoriello wants to go down that path again. They also have three expiring contracts of interest to other teams: James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov.
Babcock says he speaks with Lamoriello frequently – “sometimes way too many times, probably” – and believes the Leafs are a team that can make some noise.
“I like the pace that we can play at, I like the intelligence level of our team and I like the depth in our positions and yet I want to see it every day,” he said. “I really believe – and I’ve said this for a long time now – that there’s another level we can get to on a consistent basis. Are we going to get to it?
“Everyone in this room, we’re going to watch, and we’re going to see if it happens or not. I think we can get to another level of consistency, getting after it and working hard each and every day.”
A little extra help from the front office wouldn’t hurt, either.