We all know Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is Stubborn, but how stubborn is he?
The Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third time in seven seasons.
Yes, Mike Babcock wasn’t there for the worst one of all, but he’s still apart of the history.
“We need more,” said Babcock after being eliminated by the Bruins for the second straight year. It was also after Babcock played Auston Matthews a whopping 18:48 in game seven. But, it’s not just this year that’s been a problem.
The last three playoff runs have seen Matthews’ ice time go from over 20 minutes in 201, to then even go as low as 17:32 in the 2018 series against Boston.
The interesting part is how much ice time he’s had in three career elimination games. It’s an upward trend. But, if Matthews wants big minutes in big games, he’s got a steep hill to climb.
Why does Matthews time on ice matter?
It matters because Babcock spoke about Matthews’ ice time with Matt Larkin of The Hockey News; “Some nights they’re going to be 18, some nights they’re going to be 20,” says Babcock of Matthews and John Tavares’ time on ice, “But I think that’s where (Auston’s) the best for sure.”
But unfortunately, that’s not good enough. Tavares was the only forward on the Toronto Maple Leafs that had over 21 minutes of ice time in game seven.
To put that into perspective, in game 5, which was the closest game in the Stanley Cup Finals between the Bruins and St. Louis Blues, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand both played over 22 minutes. I don’t have the answer to why Babcock didn’t give Matthews over 20 minutes of ice time in game seven, where it was 2-1 going into the third period.
However, I do have an idea of what it could be, and that’s stubbornness.
Beginning, Middle, and the End that Never Happened.
When William Nylander came back into the lineup after his contract standoff, he wasn’t instantly slotted in on Matthews wing. That was fair because he wasn’t fit enough to be on that top line. But as time went on, he got more fit, but never moved up.
Until, a month later. Throughout the rest of the season, he was never solely on Matthews wing. Yes, some of that was because of the absence of Nazem Kadri with his concussion, and then his suspension in the playoffs. But, at some points when a full lineup was ready, Nylander still wasn’t on Matthews wing.
It’s because Babcock thought things would work, and they just didn’t. We saw throughout this playoff run that when things weren’t working, Babcock wouldn’t adjust quickly enough. He did adjust eventually, but it was too late.
Let’s start in game five, where Matthews finished with a total of 17:44 of ice time and Patrick Marleau finished with a total of 15:04. If you do remember, the Leafs won that game 2-1 in what was arguably the closest game in the series.
Now in game six, Babcock upped Matthews’ ice time to 20:07. He did the same with Marleau, upping his to 17:06, which was a series high for him. That’s about a six shift difference between the two and of course, that didn’t end up working.
Fast forward to game seven, we see Marleau play 14:35. That would end up being around a six shift difference from what he saw in game six. We also saw him play a lot of key minutes in the third period, which wasn’t a good sight.
Now, I’m not here to bash on Marleau, and I do not think he’s a bad player. But, in a game seven of a series where fans have been heartbroken twice before, you’d think things would change. But unfortunately, they didn’t.
It was too late, and the game was gone. The fans were broken, the players were broken. Heck, I even had tears in my eyes while on an airplane watching Boston score two empty netters to end the game.
It’s always been the same story with Babcock. He’s too stubborn and it needs to stop sooner rather than later. Fans don’t want to be heartbroken again, and if I had to bet on it right now, there will be a Boston-Toronto round one series next April.
After reading what he had to say about Matthews’ minutes last season, it looks like he hasn’t changed. And if he doesn’t change, heartbreak will be the only feeling Toronto Maple Leafs fans know about.
Your star players are there for a reason Mike, so play them.