Will the Leafs ever stop Leafing? Maybe someday but yesterday was not that day. After a slow start to the season, they fired head coach Mike Babcock.
Toronto Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan announced today that Mike Babcock has been relieved of his coaching duties and Sheldon Keefe has been named the Club’s new head coach. #LeafsForever— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) November 20, 2019
Toronto is coming off two of their best regular seasons in recent memory. Unfortunately for their fans, both of those seasons ended in first round losses to the Boston Bruins.
The front office made some changes to the roster this summer sending out Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, and Nikita Zaitsev in various deals and bringing in Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and Cody Ceci. They also lost Jake Gardiner to free agency. While several key players have missed some time with injury, the team had not gelled thus far and are near the bottom of the league in expected goal share. In terms of results, they’d lost six games in a row including a close game against the Golden Knights on Monday.
That was apparently enough for General Manager Kyle Dubas to remove Babock and bring in the organization’s AHL head coach Sheldon Keefe. From the outside, firing a coach after back to back 100+ point seasons just 23 games into a new season seems a bit rash. I can envision a scenario where it makes sense but based on the information we have, this is quite a risk. For all the fanfare around Keefe, he’s never coached in the NHL and he’ll step into the highest pressure situation possible as the Leafs, a team with a complex set of egos to manage, try to salvage their season.
If you’re on Twitter, you’ll see Leafs fans celebrating this. Many of them have decided Mike Babcock is Too Old And Out Of Touch and Keefe will be A Player’s Coach with A Better System. That could be true but I have a hard time squaring that narrative with what we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons. I think the idea that Babcock suddenly forgot how to coach is silly. Maybe he did lose the room and it was time for a new voice, but I expect we’ll see him pop up in a new place relatively soon and be successful.
The Leafs front office and their fans made this bed. Now they get to lie in it and see if it suits them any better than the old bed.
Earlier this week, SBNation released the latest FanPulse results, which conveniently asked fans to guess which coach would be fired first. Mike Babock was one of the five options but fans didn’t view him as the most likely.
Jon Cooper was also an option but he got by far the least votes. For some Lightning fans, maybe the idea of Babcock being available would be enticing. I wouldn’t consider making a move like that yet if I was the Lightning front office. But if the team is still struggling in another month, let’s talk then. I can think of worse things than a little extra structure and discipline for this group of players.
Lightning Org News
NIkita Kucherov is expected to return to the lineup for tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. The defending Hart Trophy winner left Tuesday’s game against the Blues after a big hit from Brayden Schenn at the end of the second period. He didn’t return to the game but he appears ready to go tonight.
Other Hockey News
Garnett Hathaway and his extremely third generation banker name will miss the next three Capitals games after he spit on Erik Gudbranson earlier this week. With this suspension, the NHL draws a wonderfully bizarre distinction between spitting and licking. The former gets a three game suspension and the latter isn’t even a penalty. The only difference I can discern between those things is the velocity at which the player’s saliva makes contact with the other player. I wonder if a player just kind of dribbled some spittle onto another player if it would be a one game suspension.
Also, can y’all just stop putting your saliva on other people in any context? It’s gross and unnecessary. Just slash someone like a normal person if you’re that mad.
The Dustin Byfuglien saga continues as expected. This is going to get more contentious before it gets resolved. Byfuglien has lots of money left on his contract and the team won’t want to pay that money if he’s not cooperating with the organization. Thus, an impasse.
The NHLPA has filed a grievance challenging Dustin Byfuglien’s suspension— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) November 20, 2019