The Mike Babcock era has officially ended in Toronto.
Babcock lead this team to a 173-133-45 record during his time as head coach. As much as this decision doesn’t come as a surprise out of left field given their current record of 9-10-4, many believed he would be given some more time to help work this team out of their struggles. However, a six game losing streak, including a 6-1 trampling by the Penguins on Saturday, forced the Maple Leafs management team to pull the trigger yesterday afternoon.
Babcock was always a coached set in his ways. He believed this team should play a certain way and only that way. His failure to make adjustments to the team GM Kyle Dubas gave him was absolutely a focal point of the firing.
Still, Mike Babcock is a coach with an incredible resume. He pick the Maple Leafs over multiple suitors back in the Spring of 2015. He came to a team that was one of the worst in the NHL, about to embark on a full-scale rebuild, and took that as a exciting challenge. Many will be sad to realize Babcock won’t be the man to bring this team that almighty Stanley Cup.
But that’s not always how things work out, even with a coach who has as good of a resume as anyone can now tell you. The Maple Leafs aren’t the same team they were when Matthews, Marner and company were rookies and just barely made the playoffs. This team is now built differently and Mike Babcock refused to change. He wanted to make a bunch of players who didn’t play his style, play his style.
We can speculate all day long whether Dubas wanted to fire Babcock this summer and Shanahan shut it down or not. Either way it was always clear Dubas and Babcock never agreed on the fundamentals of how this team should play. At the end of the day Dubas believed that Babcock would never be able to use this team to it’s full potential, and at that point why stay pat and hope things sort itself out.
Babcock is a great coach, there is no doubt in that. This was just not a team built to play the way he wanted them to play. If he wants to coach in the NHL again, there will surely be a team out there who would love to have him.
Leafs nation should not hold a grudge on him because of his stubbornness to evolve. It was frustrating, but he did a lot more good for this franchise than bad. This team would have likely not turned it around so quickly if it weren’t for him leading the charge and spending so much time developing players such as Rielly, Kadri, as well as all the young stars on this team today. Do the Leafs have Tavares right now without him, who knows?
He was also a class act to everyone around him. He always showed respect to the media, fans, and everyone who ran into him in the community, as well as being always a massive advocator for mental health initiatives. He is a great person who Maple Leafs fans should look back on with a great deal of respect and gratitude. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and thats what happened here.
Now, it’s Sheldon Keefe’s turn.
Sheldon Keefe has had incredible success at the OHL and AHL level. He was a Dubas hire from the start as the two of them shared the same vision on how their teams should play. He is a player first coach, always welcoming a conversation on how things are going and how to get better.
Dubas is hoping he can help unleash this teams full potential and get them back to playing hockey the way they are capable of. Letting the elite offensive talents be elite offensive talents has to be high on the list. If the team can control the puck for longer periods of time in the offensive zone, that alone will help improve the defensive struggles.
At the same time, Keefe can’t ignore the problems this team has when the puck is in fact in their own end. He has to continue working on this teams defensive structure, but has to tackle it in a different way than Babcock did, as that way was clearly not working. The good part for Keefe is he is familiar with so many players on this roster, he isn’t coming in with no idea on everyone.
The Maple Leafs currently sit two points out of a wild card spot, with the majority of teams having 1-2 games in hand (not to mention the Lighting with 5). With still 59 games to go in the season, this team still has a ton of time to turn things around. They are by no means in panic mode for the playoffs yet, but things were starting to get tense. The other side of that is if the Maple Leafs win something like three out of the next five, things start to not look so dull. Everyone is still so bunched up in the standing right now that losing six in a row makes it seem like you are free falling in the standing. Then you can string together a little win streak and you’re climbing right back up quickly.
The Maple Leafs had to stop their free fall before it got worse, and they believe they have with the coaching change. We will start to see tonight against Arizona how different of a system this team will be playing under Sheldon Keefe. It’s also important to understand that there will be an adapting period that comes along with this, no team can master a new system in just a couple games. For Leafs nation though, they are hoping that this team can start winning some games while adapting the new system at the same time.
The Sheldon Keefe era, and maybe more importantly the true Kyle Dubas era, is about to take centre stage.