The Toronto Maple Leafs Move on From Mike Babcock

The Toronto Maple Leafs fired their head coach, Mike Babcock, following a weak start to the season; one that was preceded by four years of constant postseason disappointment.

Some Leafs fans were frustrated beyond belief with Babcock, and while many are grateful for how far he brought the team, even more grateful that he’s gone. 

In my opinion, The Maple Leafs should have parted ways with Babcock much sooner.

Kyle V.S. Mike

Leafs fans prior to the Auston Matthews era know just how terrible the shape of the team was before Babcock became the head coach. At the time Toronto needed an old school coach into whip them into shape and make them a well-disciplined team. Babcock did exactly that, but that’s also where the problem lies, he didn’t move past that. 

The Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas, built a team based around speed and skill, focusing on analytics, which is a relatively new form of running a hockey team. Babcock however, is an old school coach who didn’t adapt to that. 

Throughout their years together, it was very obvious that the GM and Head Coach weren’t always on the same page. Fans and the media alike saw what was going on and it made the team suffer. 

During Game 7 of the first round of the 2019 Playoffs, arguably the most important game of the year for the Leafs, Babcock played the Leafs’ stars for around 15 minutes each. However, he had the fourth line on the ice against Boston‘s first line in the most critical minutes of the game. 

Dubas brings in Nick Petan only for Babcock to put him on a healthy scratch, and so Dubas extends Petan’s contract two years. 

Dubas then signs Jason Spezza, and Babcock benches him on opening night for absolutely no reason. 

It was a constant back and forth between Dubas and Babcok, one that many knew would not end until one of them quit, or in this case, was fired. 

The Babcock horror stories

The day Babcock was fired many celebrated because when it comes to coach-player relationships, Babcock doesn’t have the best reputation.

As soon as the news about Babcock broke, retired NHL player Mike Commodore took to Twitter to express his honest opinion. "Hey Mike Babcock...simply put your players quit on you. They quit on you because you are a terrible human being. You are an average coach with an extremely oversized ego. You finally got exactly what you deserve you selfish prick. The hockey world is ecstatic," he tweeted. 

After Commodore received a large amount of backlash following his tweet, former Leafs player Mark Fraser defended him, revealing many of Babcock’s former players feel the same way. "Anyone who this [Mike Commodore] needs to lay off Babs just doesn't understand how much hate players have for him," he tweeted. 

The main message of Fraser’s thread is that Babcock had done many bad things behind the scenes that the public wasn’t aware of. 

The Marner situation 

Just days following his firing, Babcock was under fire for an incident between he and Maple Leafs star, Mitch Marner. 

The Toronto Sun broke the story, revealing that Babcock asked Marner, who was 19 at the time, to make a list of who he thought were the most hard-working players and least hard-working players on the team. Babcock then proceeded to reveal the list and who made it to the entire team. This was a very controversial move, given that it had the ability to ruin Marner’s relationship with his teammates. To be quite honest, that’s just not something you ask a rookie - or anyone on a team to do. 

The players didn’t want to play for him

When people don’t like you, it’s hard to lead them, and that is exactly what happened in the Leafs locker room. Following Babcock’s firing, James Mirtle of the Athletic tweeted “90% of the Leafs were relieved to see Mike Babcock go”. 

It was obvious in the games leading up to Babcock‘s firing that the Leafs roster was done putting in effort. Other teams completely walked over Toronto and they let them.  With team morale at an all-time low, the announcement came that Mike Babcock was no longer the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and that Sheldon Keefe would be taking over his position. 

Keefe is known to be a “player’s coach,” one who goes out of his way to make sure his players are satisfied and comfortable. He’s also familiar with many of the Leafs players, as he coached them on the Marlies. Keefe knows the team and knows he needs to adapt to the direction the team is going in, something Babcock was not willing to do. 

Travis Dermott, who played under Keefe prior to joining the Leafs told Sportsnet “I think we’re just ready for a different vibe, to find something else and find some energy in ourselves ... The boys want to play for [Keefe].”

During Keefe’s first game as head coach it was like someone had flipped a switch. Toronto was grinding on the ice and the Leafs completely dominated the Arizona Coyotes. 

Finally, Dubas has who he wants behind the bench. While it may be the end of an era, it is also the start of something amazing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  

Babcock, it’s been real but it’s not us, it’s you. It’s time to move on.