Head coach Sheldon Keefe sounded exasperated after the Toronto Maple Leafs most recent inexcusable loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.
The defensive strides that the Toronto Maple Leafs made during last season must seem like a lifetime ago. The Leafs have returned to the team that relies on its offense to bail out its porous defense and shaky goaltending.
Worse still, thirty-plus games into the current season, and no strides have been made with this edition of the team. It's been a long-time problem with the Leafs, particularly for the core players that have been around for years.
Defensive specialist David Kampf (along with goaltender Ilya Samsonov) was a scapegoat for the loss to the Blue Jackets for his careless pass in opposition territory that led to Adam Fantilli's tying goal late in the third period.
Likely tired of his message not being heard, Keefe decided to make Kampf a healthy scratch for the Leafs next game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Keefe Benching a Star Player Would Be More Effective
Hockey Night In Canada panelist Kevin Bieska was correct in his analysis of Keefe's decision during the first intermission of Saturday night's telecast.
Keefe choosing to bench a fourth-line player is meaningless. As Bieksa pointed out, such a move will not get the attention of the team's top players and change their lackadaisical ways.
If Keefe wants to finally get his top players to buy in defensively, and show some mental fortitude and maturity there are better ways to deliver the message.
The most drastic option would be making a more significant player a healthy scratch. Bieksa suggested a top-six forward as an example.
This option is too risky and would very likely alienate said top player and fracture the coach-player relationship. It could ultimately lead to Keefe's dismissal as coach.
Two other alternatives for Keefe would be more constructive in helping deliver his message.
Keefe could sit a player for a couple of shifts. Missing a turn on a power play or a regular shift is the most successful way to get a player's attention. It's a coach's most powerful carrot, ice-time.
A second possibility is a subtle message through the media. Keefe tried this tactic earlier in his tenure, but almost immediately walked it back and softened his stance.
It is time for Keefe to bring it back.
The most respected and successful active or former coaches have often had to call out one of their top players. John Cooper, arguably the NHL's most revered active coach, has done it with the core of his 2-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Keefe's benching of Kampf does little. A more hardline approach to a more important player is the only way his message will be heard.