Toronto Maple Leafs: What is Mike Babcock Doing?

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 2: Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena December 2, 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)'n
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 2: Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena December 2, 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)'n /


Mike Babcock has been invaluable to the recent success of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 2015, his arrival kickstarted an organizational culture reset so sweeping, that he turned a basement dwelling punchline into to playoff contender in just two short years.

With that said, there exists no coach, no matter the sport, who is immune to criticism, Babcock included.

Here we sit, 44 games into the season, and the best way to describe Babcock’s personnel decisions would be “clinically insane”.

Now, I could use this column to scream my displeasure with such ferocity, my voice up and quits without even giving me his two week’s notice. I sure as heck want to, and damn if it wouldn’t feel good.

But, I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to try and make sense of what the heck Babcock is thinking.

Buckle up, kids.

Why Polak?

Roman Polak is objectively terrible.

Look, I’m sure he’s a great guy. In fact, my dad’s a great guy too! But, that doesn’t mean I’d want my dad playing shut down minutes for the Leafs every night.

I need to clarify something. When I say “Polak is terrible”, I don’t mean he’s terrible at the sport of hockey. Being in the NHL makes him a better hockey player than 99.9% of the people on Earth.

No, I mean he’s terrible at executing the one job he was specifically brought back to do.

Polak’s re-signing was done for the sole purpose of boosting the Leafs penalty kill. Now, let me ask you a question. How is it possible to kill a penalty from inside the penalty box?  I asked Neil DeGrasse Tyson the same thing, and he just laughed in my face then proceeded to ruin another holiday.

So far, Polak has spent close to the same amount of time taking penalties than he’s spent killing them

In 25 games, Polak’s taken 16 minor penalties, equating to 32 total minutes in the box. On the flip side, he’s spent a total of 57:36 on the penalty kill. Serving penalties for more than half the time you spend killing them is simply unacceptable.

To compare, Ron Hainsey has spent 201:30 total minutes on the PK this season while having taken a paltry 28 total minutes in penalties. Nothing but respect for MY penalty killing specialist.

So, why hasn’t Babcock, the highest paid coach in the league, despite a hefty sample size, realized that his supposed PK specialist is terrible? The answer can be found in one of his signature catchphrases.

Tie Goes to the Veteran

When the Mitch MarnerTyler BozakJames vanRiemsdyk line was floundering to start the season, Babcock demoted Marner to the fourth line, citing this reasoning as for why.

From a coach’s perspective, I get it.

It sends a bad message to the locker room for a veteran to be punished for his mistakes while a rookie gets off scot-free. And yet, like essentially everything else in life, context is important.

Despite Bozak and JVR being vets, they clearly held more responsibility for their line’s ineffectiveness than Marner did. It shouldn’t matter how old they are. A coach needs to make the decisions best suited to his team’s success. Demoting a dynamic, albeit slumping sophomore over two equally, or even more so, struggling vets doesn’t help your team win.

Which brings me to Polak.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Connor Carrick has been a revelation this season. On the contrary, I actually think he’s been thoroughly underwhelming.

It’s just that we often forget Carrick is still 23-years-old, trying to develop his game at one of the most challenging positions in the sport. Despite that, he’s not only put up a vastly superior CF/60 percentage than Polak, he also injects the Leafs with an element of mobility that Polak simply doesn’t.

In fact, if Carrick ever committed the same defensive atrocities that have become a nightly routine for Polak, Babcock would kidnap him in the dead of night and force him live out the rest of his contract in a remote arctic village.

In cases like these, it shouldn’t matter how old a player is. If they give the team a better chance to win, they should be playing.

End of story.


I wonder what Josh Leivo thinks about Babcock’s insistence on accountability?

By scratching Travis Dermott in favour of Polak, Babcock is now forever banned from ever uttering that word again.

In the two games since his call-up, Dermott has been a revelation, leading the entire Leafs team in Corsi, assisting on a game-tying goal, and showing an ability to rush the puck that even Jake Gardiner would envy.

So, naturally, he’s being scratched in favour of an ineffective defenceman. A defenceman who, on a nightly basis, causes his team to waste at least 2 minutes of each game cleaning up his mistakes.

What kind of message does that send to the rookie?

Look, I’m all for holding players accountable. Although, that accountability shouldn’t be exclusive to rookies and sophomores. In fact, it should probably be the opposite. When a veteran player makes a mistake, shouldn’t he know better by now?

The best way for young players to work through their mistakes is to do exactly that; work through them. Banishing them to the press box so they miss out on valuable in-game experience would do more damage to their development than simply letting them learn.

With veterans, at this point in their career, we already know how good they are. They’ve hit their ceiling. With a young player, however, their play can only get better. Think about it. Worst case scenario, Carrick plays as bad as Polak always does.

On the other hand, the best and more likely scenario is that he develops a rhythm and outperforms expectations.

At the end of the day, I understand Babcock’s logic. There’s a reason he makes $8 million more per season to coach the Leafs than I do. He’s a good coach.

Yet, this can’t go on forever. At some point, something has to change.

Next: Maple Leafs Should Play in 2020 Winter Classic

At least we’re not Ottawa.