What the Toronto Maple Leafs Players Have Said About Their Coaches

Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs – Auston Matthews (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images) /

During the first morning skate after Babcock was relieved of his duties, many of the Maple Leafs players were asked about the coaching change. The Leafs Nation Network was there interviewing the stars. The following quotes are from that.

Captain John Tavares

On Mike Babcock

"Well, I think many mixed emotions. I think we all know how dedicated and committed Mike was and how passionate he was about this team and coaching this team, doing all he can to get the most out of us and have the most success. I think you feel a lot of that burden and not playing up to expectations and the standards we have for ourselves. There is a sense of responsibility in owning that but now is kind of time, it’s come to this point, and turning the page this morning."

On Sheldon Keefe

"Obviously, I think Sheldon has a great mind for the game and we’re excited about the energy and the things that he’s bringing and we’re to improve from where we’re at. I didn’t know a ton [about him]. A lot of the guys that have played for him have spoken highly about him and you see how many guys have and are here now so I think that says a lot. He’s done a tremendous job with working with players, especially on the development side and what he’s been able to do with the team as well. I’m looking forward to him implementing a lot of those things and transitioning some of that stuff here, especially with our young group. A lot of these guys being underneath him, that’s the hope."

Auston Matthews

On Mike Babcock

"It’s kind of the unfortunate part of the business. We hadn’t been playing well and management thought that change needed to be made. Obviously this doesn’t rest just on the coaches, but the players as well."

On Sheldon Keefe

"There’s going to be changes and little things systematically the way that we play. No coach is ever the exact same so obviously there’s a learning process that [the players] have to go through and just gradually over the next couple weeks, work on those things. I’ve chatted with him over the course of three years I’ve been here and whether it was in training camp; he lives in Arizona in the summer so just running into him there. It will be a change. We’ve got to put our best foot forward here and get out of this rut we’ve been in."

Morgan Reilly

On Mike Babcock

"It’s obviously a bit of a different feeling today, but as players we’ve got to answer the bell. It’s time for us to dig in more. I know we’ve said that in the past but changes have been made, it’s time to start playing a bit better."

On Sheldon Keefe

"He’s got a great reputation amongst the guys he’s had. It’s kind of a clean slate for him. As a group, we want to play well for him and do a good job. He came in, he talked about a couple things, but [practice] was good, It was uptempo it was a different practice. He asked for a little bit more attention to detail just because It’s a new day, a new skate, new routine and I thought we did a good job."

What We Learned

If some fans were hoping that the players used their first opportunity to share their true feelings of dislike for Babcock, they were sorely disappointed. Babs was characterized positively by his strengths. The players demonstrated that they’re all pros and know how to speak to the media without saying anything damning.

Most eyes were on Auston Matthews due to their public disagreements and the need for summer meetings to repair their relationship. Matthews had a specific line he used multiple times in several interviews. He deflected most questions by leaning into the line, “systematically, we’re not going to play the exact same”.

What is up for interpretation is whether Matthews was surreptitiously suggesting that the team’s systems need changing or if he was simply stating that all coaches have unique styles. It’s probably a combination of the two. It is believed that the players wanted more freedom on the ice, but Babcock’s systems wouldn’t allow for it. Keefe brings a different approach, which should let Matthews explore his on-ice creativity.