The Mike Babcock era is over in Toronto. After 5 seasons in Toronto he was dismissed today and is being replaced with Marlies head coach, Sheldon Keefe. After starting the season 9-10-4 the Toronto Maple Leafs had not had the start to the season they envisioned. The most glaring issue with the team was the relation between the front office and the bench staff. With all the talent the team has, Babcock still wanted to win games by “Grinding it out”. The style of coaching Babcock was using on this team had worn thin and was not effective anymore, trying to win games 2-1 or 3-2 and keeping it close on the ice was not going to work with the skill set he had in front of him. Auston Matthews and John Tavares are both possible 50 goal and 100 point guys, Mitch Marner is a 100 point guy and William Nylander is good for 60+ points. Babcock was not using his big guns to their strength. When you have a player like Auston Matthews on your team, he needs to play more than 19:50 a game. Leon Draisaitl is playing 22:44 over in Edmonton. He has the talent to do so and their coaching staff is taking advantage of that. Babcock refused to do this. After the latest game against the Blackhawks Babcock said “They were dominant (the Matthews line) I played them way too much, but they were dominant and they played well” Matthews played 21:56 and had a career high 4 assists. The Babcock way of coaching is the only way that Babcock will coach.
Change and the ability to adapt are two things needed to be a successful NHL coach. John Tortorella is a great example of this. Before, he used to be a hot headed coach who would scream and put his players through the ringer, now he has taken a hard look at himself and is a coach who listens to his players and wants what is best for them and the team. Anyone who plays for him always has said that they would jump on a grenade for him. Babcock did not want to change. After an EMBARASSING 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday night he was asked what he would do moving forward. “I have a 4 and a half hour flight to look at everything and adjust”. This seemed promising, were we going to get a new look team for the Vegas game? The team desperately needed it. Maybe move Rielly off the PP1 and replace him with Barrie? Anything to try and get the team going. After his long flight these were the changes he made.
- Justin Holl and Tyson Barrie switched spots
- Pierre Engvall will play his first NHL game
That’s it, that’s all he could come up with. It was apparent that he did not want to change the way he was coaching to fit the style of team that he had in front of him and it was starting to show with the on ice product. The players had looked like they had given up on him, the most telling sign of this was when they allowed an empty net goal a couple games ago and John Tavares smashed his stick over the goal post in frustration. That to me was a message to the bench staff that something needed to change, and nothing did.
The quotes from Babcock had started to fall on deaf ears. “We need to grind it out”, “We need to dig deep”, “We have good men in the room” and blah blah blah. If I was starting to ignore his message and what he was saying, then what about the players who are with him all day every day, his message and the delivery of that message were no longer effective. We often heard that there was tension between Matthews and Babcock, maybe some of that was true looking back at it. You can also look at the way he treats some of his players. Holl last year, Leivo a couple seasons ago, Spezza this season, Frank Corrado in 2016/17 and many others players. But I think the thing that was killing him the most was that his message to the players was not getting through, or that they just did not want to hear it anymore because he was not changing the way they needed too.
Lou was the general manager when Babcock was brought in, and their working relationship by all reports was fantastic. When Dubas was handed the keys to the kingdom, the ball had already started rolling on Babcocks dismissal. Can he and Dubas co-exist? Will Babcock take orders from a kid? Can Babcock coach this team from the way it is built? Clearly that ball had reached the end of the track Wednesday afternoon when they made the announcement that the team was moving on. Babcock, an old school coach, was never a good match for Dubas, a new age general manager. Dubas did not hire Babcock and I think if he was given the chance to hire his own coach, it would not have been Babcock. At the end of last year and another game 7 loss, the media was reporting that Dubas wanted Babcock fired. True or not, it did not happen. In hind sight they probably should have so they could have given new coach Sheldon Keefe a full training camp and pre-season. The working relationship between Dubas and Babcock was never there, they both had different visions for this team and at the end of day, Babcock did not want to buy into the vison Dubas had for this team. Whenever there was a player brought in by Dubas, you could tell when Babcock did not like them (Muzzin and Petan most notably) Dubas has always said for a team to be successful, the whole organization needs to buy in, and if the guy calling the line changes is not buying in, then that is going to reflect in the on ice product.
I was excited when Babcock came on as head coach, it was going to be a big change that the organization needed. 5 years later, I have grown tired of him and he has run his course. From his pre-game interviews where he is out of breath from his jog to his constant repetitive quotes about “Good pros” and “Grinding it out”. He had over stayed his welcome by 23 games. But should we be happy Babcock is gone? Yes. Should we be ungrateful for what he did for the organization? No. He turned the culture around from a losing attitude to a winning one, he drove home to this team how to be good NHL players and showed them what it takes. He is just not the guy to take this team to the next level, but he did a hell of a job to get them to where they are today. His time is just up. So thank you Babs for getting the team this far, and Sheldon, now it is your turn to show us what you got.