No Babcock For Leafs Not That Bad


Mike Babcock (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Mike Babcock (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Tuesday morning on TSN Radio, Bob McKenzie said that Mike Babcock is “definitely not going to the Leafs.”

And so ends another round of dreaming for the Maple Leafs fan.

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The Trade Deadline – full of rumors of franchise altering deals – culminated in the trade of Korbinian Holzer.

The Draft Lottery got our hopes up that decades of bad luck could be reversed in ten minutes. It did not pan out.

And now, the NHL’s premier coach apparently is going to either stay home or go to Buffalo.

So basically, juts another day in the life of a Leafs fan: Dream big, go home empty.

But there is hope, Because Bob’s Been Wrong Before. 

Once. And, only sort of.  So, I am kidding, because there isn’t any hope.

Last year, Bob erroneously reported that the Penguins were going to fire Dan Bylsma on the same day that they fired GM Ray Shero.  They didn’t, and Bob admitted he was wrong. Only, they did fire Bylsma just a few weeks later anyways.

So, Bob was briefly wrong, admitted it, and then was ultimately vindicated.

Bad luck for the Leafs and their fans if they’re still holding out hope for a Babcock change of heart. Let us note that McKenzie used the word “definitely,”  which is the most unambiguous choice of word possible,  and if you couple that with his stellar reputation for almost 100% accuracy in everything he says, things do not look good for the Leafs.

At this point you could put the odds of Mike Babcock coming to the Leafs somewhere around the same as them hiring me.  And to put Bob’s reputation in perspective, the fact that I am not a coach and am not seeking to become one doesn’t preclude my being hired as much as if Bob had said I am out of the running.

Mike Babcock Coach Red Wings
(Icon SMI),

So Who Will Coach the Leafs?

To be honest, Babcock would have been the best choice simply because, optically at least, the Leafs are a mess. Their President, Brendan Shanahan, is basically a rookie and his first year at the helm couldn’t have looked worse. Whether re-upping Carlyle, letting Nonis continue to operate, signing Robidas, trading for Polak, missing the Playoffs or having the season devolve into one ridiculous controversy after another, the first season under Shanahan’s watch was a disaster, optically.

Realistically though, there is a lot to like about Shanahan – his hires, his patience, his willingness to stay in the background while he assessed the situation, his letting Nonis attempt to finish his plan or fail with it, the things he says in press conferences, his reliance on data over feelings, and his willingness to buck traditional hockey conventions.  All of these things are potentially great (well except the Nonis thing) and Shanahan may one day look like a genius. But, from an optics-perspective, things in Leaf-land look pretty crappy today.

Even the potential of a fresh-start and a new approach are pretty much dismissed by a fanbase that rightfully feels it has had it’s near-unprecedented unfailing support for the team taken advantage of incessantly over the past several decades.

So, optically, Babcock would have been a great get for the Leafs.  However, realistically, how much can one coach do? And while the rebuild may in fact go much quicker than anyone imagines (the team already has Kadri, Nylander, Rielly, Gardiner, Leipsic, Brown, a decent set of “B” level prospects and the 4th overall pick in this year’s draft, in addition to be able to keep or trade Bernier, Kessel, JVR and Phaneuf) it is still going to be rough going for a season or two after this one, barring a miracle. Meaning that Babcock isn’t exactly going to come here make a noticeable difference.

Aside: For the Leafs, the most important factor for a new coach must be development and teaching – and yet all us outsiders and arm-chair GMs get to know about a coach are his personality and his tactics.  Any information I might know about Babcock’s – or any coach’s – teaching and development is third, fourth, fifth hand information. Who really knows?  Can fans ever really even properly assess a coach in the first place?

Honestly, it wouldn't be the worst choice (AP photo/Chris O'Meara)
Honestly, it wouldn’t be the worst choice (AP photo/Chris O’Meara)

It’s possible that Mike Babcock not coming to Toronto is a blessing in disguise. Sure, the Leafs could’a used a win, but what’s the shelf-life of a coach anyways?  Isn’t there always the possibility that his intense, win-at-all-costs message wears thin before the team is even close to contending?

One can only speculate, but if I try to remove the part of me that says “damn, it would be awesome if the Leafs got Babcock” from participating in the analysis, maybe this can be a good thing. There are, after-all, only 30 coaching positions in the NHL, but likely a couple hundred qualified people to fill them, meaning that the odds are decent that the best coach available isn’t even in the NHL today.

And there are a lot of good candidates: Guy Boucher, Dallas Eakins, Ralph Krueger, Todd Nelson, Jarrod Skalde, Doug Gilmour, Mike Keenen, John Torterella, Dan Bylsma, Peter Deboer, Paul McLean, Kevin Dineen, Dale Hunter, Claude Julien (if the Bruins are dumb enough to fire him) and  Ken Hitchcock, if the Blues for some reason let him go. Those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head – there are probably a dozen more decent candidates.

Bottom line: Babcock isn’t coming to the Leafs and neither is Connor McDavid.  On the bright-side, Randy Carlyle and David Clarkson aren’t coming back either.  I still like the direction the team is taking under Shanahan and I see reason for optimism.

It’s real easy to look at the Oilers and ask why the Leafs can’t make similarly splashy moves, but like most easy comparisons, it can’t stand up to scrutiny. The Leafs are five or so years behind the Oilers, who are poised to move into the NHL’s elite next season. The Leafs have to tear it all down first before they can even begin to implement a plan to build it back up.

Honestly, we shouldn’t be blinded by big-names at this time. The best indicator that it wasn’t a great idea may in fact be Babcock himself: he got to where he is, so maybe we should listen to him when he says that Toronto isn’t a good fit.  I mean, aren’t the Leafs here in the first place because of a deep seated franchise tendency to jam square pegs into round holes?

Maybe the best thing for the Leafs would be to go low-key here and develop their own Mike Babcock.