What a struggle for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team has a 9-9-4 record for the season, with only two regulation victories in the last 15 games. As the team works to remove itself from its funk, the following news and rumors are emerging.
Item One: Is It Time to Fire Babcock?
Firing Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and bringing in Sheldon Keefe as the coach is not a great idea. On Nov. 16, Yahoo Sports’ Justin Cuthbert wrote a thoughtful piece about the Maple Leafs’ troubles and addressed the question of whether Babcock should be fired. Although Cuthbert thinks there might be an issue with Babcock, he makes the case that bringing in Keefe, Babcock’s heir apparent, during the middle of a season is unwise.
Apparently, general manager Kyle Dubas prefers Keefe because they’ve worked together for so long and their visions of how to build a team might align more closely than with Babcock. However, Cuthbert makes the analogy that naming Keefe the Maple Leafs new coach this season would be the coaching equivalent of Kasimir Kaskisuo’s NHL debut when the team hung him out to dry against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Cuthbert suggested that it might be best for Keefe, when he takes over, to operate with a clean slate without dealing with “the noise that would emanate from a market like Toronto when the expectation was that its grossly underperforming hockey team would compete for a Stanley Cup.”
His final comment is that protecting the future might be the best reason to be patient in the present. There’s wisdom in that perspective.
Item Two: Kaskisuo Is Abandoned by Teammates in His NHL Debut
I have written a number of recent posts about the Maple Leafs’ backup goalie situation. My first post suggested how tough it must be for Michael Hutchinson to be placed in the redundant situation of playing the more difficult second game in every back-to-back scenario this season.
After Hutchinson let in five goals against the Chicago Blackhawks in a 5-4 loss on Nov. 10, I admitted that I might be wrong about his skill. However, after the team’s porous defense left Kaskisuo to fend for himself in the 6-1 loss to the Penguins, I’m not so sure I was wrong. It seems every Maple Leafs backup will suffer the same fate this season unless something changes drastically.
CBS Sports put it this way: “Poor kid. He’s been playing well in the AHL, but he lined up behind a shell-shocked Leafs’ lineup and they did nothing to help him. Koskisuo is better than the stat line shows.”
That sums up the play of the team in front of him nicely. Sad, too, because I’m certain he won’t forget his debut for a long time.
Item Three: Is It Time to Trade Barrie?
On Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada’s edition of Saturday Headlines, Elliotte Friedman reported that the Maple Leafs have been asked about trading Tyson Barrie: “There’s been a lot of chatter around him. He has not asked for a trade, however, I think there’s an understanding that so far it hasn’t worked, that this is a very important year for him because he’s a free agent, and I think we all recognize how we would feel about that.”
As Friedman explained, although the Maple Leafs don’t want to trade him, there is interest because the Colorado Avalanche still pay half of his salary, which puts it at $2.75 million.
When the 28-year-old Barrie was traded with Alexander Kerfoot to the Maple Leafs from the Avalanche on July 1 for Nazem Kadri, there was hope the team had addressed its issues on defense. But Barrie hasn’t produced: he has zero goals and only six assists in 22 games this season. What a contrast. He had 14 goals in each of his last two seasons with the Avalanche.
Because he’ll become an unrestricted free agent after the season, he wants to have good numbers to maximize his next contract. Instead, he’s on pace to score 22 points this season, much lower than the 59 and 57 points he put up in his last two seasons.
Barrie’s problem is that he’s playing behind Morgan Rielly and he gets little power-play time. For him, that’s a drastic change. Last season, he ran a potent power play with and scored 25 of his 59 points in that role. When you’re playing with Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon night after night, you’re bound to produce.
Item Four: Ceci’s Scoring Has Disappeared
There are two things about Cody Ceci. First, from the moment he arrived, he’s been disparaged. Still, he plays on the team’s top defensive pairing with Rielly. Second, he turned some heads early in the season when he had a three-game point streak. However, it’s been a long time since that streak and he hasn’t scored a goal or had an assist in the team’s last 14 games.
The team could use more scoring, but it seems it won’t be from Ceci.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Mats Sundin hasn’t given up on the Maple Leafs. As reported by the Score, Sundin suggested, “You’re gonna have ups and downs over a season, and … sometimes the patience is a lot better in a market like Tampa or (if) you play for the (Florida) Panthers, (rather) than the Maple Leafs or the (Montreal) Canadiens.”
Sundin noted that the Maple Leafs might have struggled early, but he believes the team has the talent to turn their season around. “You have (a young team) in Toronto right now (that) are building, to me, one of the best young teams in the National Hockey League.”
He commented, “If you have character guys … you’ll find a way.”
The team’s next chance to find their way will be in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights on Tuesday. We’ll see how the team does.