4 Reasons Why Toronto Maple Leafs Succeeded and Sabres Didn’t

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 17: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks for a puck to tip at Linus Ullmark #35 of the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on December 17, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Sabres 5-3.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 17: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks for a puck to tip at Linus Ullmark #35 of the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on December 17, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Sabres 5-3.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 24: Auston Matthews celebrates onstage with Toronto Maple Leafs . (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 24: Auston Matthews celebrates onstage with Toronto Maple Leafs . (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

#2. Coaching

The Buffalo News wrote a great column a few months ago talking about the greatest what-ifs in Buffalo sports history, and of course Mike Babcock’s name is on there.

When the Leafs fired Randy Carlyle during the 2014-15 season, the team was actually in a playoff spot. However, the team went on one of the worst streaks in team history under interim coach Peter Horachek and found themselves drafting fourth overall.

After that embarrassing display of hockey, Horachek was let go as well and the Leafs needed a new coach. About a month later, Babcock didn’t come to terms on an extension with the Detroit Red Wings and one of the best coaches in the NHL was now a Free Agent.

The Sabres and the Leafs were the two favourite destinations for Babcock because they were opportunities for him to turn a young franchise around and start fresh. The Sabres had just drafted Jack Eichel and seemed destined for the up-and-up, whereas the Leafs were a dumpster-fire, but had the resources in place to rebuild and turn the team into a winner.

The Leafs swooped in and gave Babcock a $50 million contract and that was it. He was now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was a key reason towards the team rebuilding so fast. Sure, he was stubborn at times, but he was a great hockey mind and helped take a team from 30th place to three straight playoff seasons.

As mentioned in the Buffalo News article, this is what Babcock said about joining Toronto, instead of Buffalo:

"“It was a hard decision. We went back and forth so many times trying to figure out the right thing to do. “If you don’t think Terry Pegula is a star, you’re mistaken. If you think Tim Murray and I didn’t have a great relationship, that’s wrong, too. In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs. This was the best fit for my family. … (The Sabres) have got lots of great things. In the end, I couldn’t make it go for my family and I wanted to be the coach of the Maple Leafs. That’s it.”"

Just like that, the Leafs had a Stanley Cup champion coach in Babcock, and even though the Leafs recently fired him, they replaced him with an up-and-coming coach in Sheldon Keefe who has won everywhere he’s coached.

Since the Sabres missed out on Babcock, they replaced Ted Nolan with another Stanley Cup winning coach in Dan Bylsma. Unfortunately that relationship didn’t last too long and he was fired two years later and replaced by Phil Housley.

The coaching carousel in Buffalo has continued since the Housley hiring, as two years after his arrival, he was fired and replaced by Ralph Krueger. Can we also mention that Krueger was out of professional hockey for five years working overseas with the football club Southampton, so if the Sabres miss the playoffs once again next year, they may have to find another coach.

It’s crazy to see how different the Sabres may have been with Babcock in charge, but that’s definitely another reason why the Leafs were able to leap frog in the Sabres in a rebuild.