The Toronto Maple Leafs are led by head coach Mike Babcock.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the best coach in the NHL by reputation, but sometimes I wonder if the reality is also true.
There is always a balance when criticising a coach. Obviously, I am not a hockey coach. Obviously, Mike Babcock knows more about hockey than I do.
But that doesn’t mean he is infallible and can not be questioned.
The one thing I do like about Babock is that he seems genuinely interested in learning. He seems genuinely interested in motivating and mentoring. He seems like a really, really good leader.
When he talks, I definitely want to listen. I want to hear his take on things – he is the rare kind of person where if you find out they think differently than you do, you want to know why.
I am a huge fan of that side of Mike Babcock. But when it comes to line-combos and in-game strategy, I wonder sometimes if he’s the best man for the job.
X’s and O’s
What I am not so sure about is his actual coaching.
In my opinion, he gives veterans too much rope and is too hard on young players. Take Hainsey and Marleau. Both should be down further in the lineup based on any kind of statistical analysis. And why even rock the boat with Matthews? Why limit his ice-time?
Last year, his team was terrible at defense and he always sat his best defensive player – Connor Carrick – in favor of his absolute worst – Roman Polak.
He limited Matthews’ and Nylander’s PP time. He overplayed Hainsey at 5v5 and on the PK.
He stuck with Martin and Komarov long after it was clear Kapanen and Johnsson where better options.
I could go on.
Besides lineup decisions, one thing Babcock does that infuriates me is that he employs a chip-and-chase style of breakout where the D is always throwing it off the glass or boards to a winger trying to get behind the other team. This also leads to a lot of dump and chase hockey.
I think it’s pretty obvious with the skill the Leafs have that they should be trying their best to have clean breakouts, either carried or passed, and that they should avoid dumping the puck in whenever possible.
Carry the puck. Pass the puck. Shoot the puck. Do not employ a style of play that neutralizes the fact that you have one of the fastest teams in the NHL.
The Leafs are not a team built for grinding, so it’s weird that Babcock makes them play like one.
And again, I am not a coach and I can’t read his mind. But I see the Leafs play one way, and the stats show it’s not effective – they were the fourth worst team for shots against last year, and when Matthews wasn’t on the ice they were consistently outshot.
What I’d Like to See
For one, employ a strategy that fits the team.
Second, have merit be the determining factor in lineup decisions, not experience. For example, If Andreas Johnsson is better than Patrick Marleau, deploy them as such.
Third, get Ron Hainsey out of the top four. It’s ridiculous.
Four, stop trying to ‘ease’ Matthews into the NHL. Give him as much ice time, 5v5 and special teams, as he can handle.
Five, play Josh Leivo and Connor Carrick.
What Will We See?
The lines I have heard about in camp so far are not encouraging. The players, however, are split into three groups and the coaches are focused on fringe players right now anyways. So we can’t read into them too much.
One thing that is encouraging is that it would be extremely rare for such a bad defensive team to keep their top four intact, so I doubt very much Hainsey will start the season so high in the lineup.
Another encouraging thing is that watching Youtube videos of Kyle Dubas talking about stats is one of the things that made me interested in them in the first place. Given that Babcock has risen to the top of his profession, it is 100% certain that he listens to other people’s ideas. We can also be certain that as GM Dubas will be more likely to pass these ideas onto Babcock than he was previously. So this should help.
I am optimistic that their partnership can take the best of Babcock and help get rid of the worst of Babcock. I predict that while Babcock will still confound us with his old-school ways, that we’ll see some of Dubas influence apparent on the Toronto Maple Leafs this year.
From the way they breakout, to the line combos they make, one can only hope.
stats from natualstattrick.com