Why the Toronto Maple Leafs have to Fire Mike Babcock

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 2: Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock looks up to the scoreboard prior to an NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena on October 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 2: Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock looks up to the scoreboard prior to an NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena on October 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are 11 games into their season and I think we can all agree they aren’t where we want them to be.

Heading into this season, expectations were higher than usual for the Toronto Maple Leafs given that they had been bounced in the first round three years in a row. On top of this, they had acquired Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot in a blockbuster deal with Colorado and their young core all had an extra year of experience under their belts.

Yet, with all of this being said, the Leafs start to the season has been average at best. They’ve started the season with a record of 5-4-2.

And they haven’t truly dominated any games this season. So the question remains, why can’t the Maple Leafs make it work despite all of the talent?

One word. Coaching.

Let me start off by saying that I completely respect Mike Babcock and his resume. I respect him for coming in after a whirlwind of failed coaching experiments and bringing a different culture to the team. I respect him for working with Nazem Kadri instead of throwing him to the wolves, and turning him into a 30 goal scorer. I respect the fact that he truly cares about his players and their well-being before anything.

But with that being said, the ultimate goal in mind for teams is winning the Stanley Cup. That much is obvious. And I simply don’t believe that Babcock is the guy who will be at the helm if the Leafs ever win it. So let me get into detail on why I feel this way rather than just sitting back and rambling about it like your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

His Tendencies Vol. 1 – Goalies on Back-To-Backs

The initial reason I wanted a coaching change was because of his tendencies. The little decisions that he would make based on his personal preference rather than what would better benefit the team.

One of these tendencies is ALWAYS starting Frederik Andersen on the first half of back-to-backs and going with Michael Hutchison on the second half, regardless of who the opponents are.

You can argue all you want that he’s trying to get the guaranteed two points, and saying that getting two points out of four is better than getting zero. But if you’re going to pull that card, then wouldn’t you want to shoot for the best chance at getting four points instead of two?

Babcock’s way of starting his goalies doesn’t even work all the time. The back-to-back with Columbus and Boston earlier this week is a perfect example of that. The back-to-back between Minnesota and Washington is also a touchy subject.

Why not let Hutchinson go up against the Wild, who happen to be one of the worst teams in the league, and save Andersen for the road game against the well-rested Capitals? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Do we know for SURE that the Leafs would have beaten Washington had Andersen started? No. But their chances certainly would have been better.

His Tendencies Vol. 2 – Misuse of Star Players

Another one of these tendencies is Babcock’s misuse of his star players in key situations. And once again, let’s have a look at the game against the Capitals.

The Leafs were down 4-3 with two minutes to go in the third period. John Tavares had just scored with the goalie pulled to edge closer to a tie-game and give the Leafs a bit of a momentum boost.

Thus, they went after it again and pulled Hutchinson. Yet two players here were absent from the ice. Who would these guys be?

Oh yeah, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Two of the best players on the team. Riding the pine in favour of Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen.

I’m not a coach, hell I’m just a fan sitting at home putting my thoughts into a document. But something seems wrong about not having your best player, who also happens to be one of the best goal-scorers in the league, who also happens to have a clutch gene, sitting on the bench in a crucial moment where you NEED a goal. Especially when no more than two weeks prior, Matthews tied the game up in the final minute against Montreal.

The worst part of that situation is that Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen now look like the bad guys in this situation, even though it’s not their fault that they were sent to the ice in favour of Matthews and Marner.

In fact, Kerfoot and Kapanen are both having good years themselves, with seven and eight points respectively through the first 11 games. But do you REALLY want them out there over Matthews and Marner in the dying seconds of a game where you need a goal to secure the extra point? No.

The Real Reason

I could go on and on about his tendencies. I could also talk about the fact that he was outcoached by Bruce Cassidy against the Bruins in last year’s playoffs and only used Matthews for 18 minutes while he was giving guys like Patrick Marleau nearly 15 minutes.

But I’m not going to sit here and dissect every little mistake Babcock has ever made. Instead I’ll get back to making the point I started with.

As I originally said, I initially wanted the coaching change because of Babcock’s tendencies. But at this point, I want him gone because the players don’t seem to want to play for him anymore.

Now before you jump all over me and say “oh, well you aren’t in the dressing room every day so you don’t know that”. I know. I’m well aware. I’m not out here claiming that Auston Matthews texted me and said he wished Babcock was gone. I’m just speculating, like all fans do, and putting my thoughts to paper.

If you’ve watched the games this year, the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won any of their games seamlessly. They haven’t dominated any one game from start to finish (except MAYBE the second game of the season against Columbus). And each win has come with a couple of obstacles along the way. Little things like Mitch Marner’s hook in overtime against the Blue Jackets.

Like Kapanen throwing his broken stick at Jeff Petry, resulting in a momentum-shifting goal for Montreal. Like Andreas Johnsson taking two penalties in two minutes right after Babcock harped on the team for taking too many penalties. The Leafs are simply not playing up to expectations and they aren’t anywhere near where they should be.

And if you think that these problems have only existed this season, then you might want to look a little bit further back. The Toronto Maple Leafs have actually been playing sub .500 hockey ever since the start of the calendar year. Their record in 2019 is 25-21-8, so it’s not like they were playing like champions up until this season.

It’s Not All His Fault

One other thing I want to clarify is that I’m not solely blaming all of the Leafs issues on Mike Babcock. The players haven’t been playing good hockey and ultimately, they’re the ones who are on the ice.

They frequently get off to slow starts. They have a habit of slowing down once they get comfortable with the lead. They also have a habit of letting in a goal within the last minute of the period.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need to be better. Everybody needs to be better. But they have way too much talent to be playing this way, and I think a shakeup is due one way or another. And in my opinion, it should start with the head coach.

They haven’t come out and said it, but it’s common knowledge that the heir to Babcock’s throne is Sheldon Keefe, the current coach of the Toronto Marlies.

And he’s proven that he can win. He got multiple winning seasons out of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds (the man behind those teams was Kyle Dubas). He led the Marlies to a Calder Cup win in 2017-18. And he’s already familiar with half the team, emphasis on guys like William Nylander, Andreas Johnsson, Travis Dermott, Zach Hyman, and Kasperi Kapanen.

The bottom line is, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to need a shakeup if they keep playing this way.

And honestly, I don’t see much of a change unless Babcock is shown the door. A team with this much talent should not be scraping for wins and hanging on by a thread.

All statistics and information from eliteprospects.com and hockey-reference.com

Next. Is the Cody Ceci Experiment Working. dark

I know I’m going to get some heat for this piece, but I’m just calling it the way I see it. In a league where the Carolina Hurricanes made it to the Conference Final, the Toronto Maple Leafs should not be heading towards their fourth first-round loss in a row.