The writing had been on the wall, but on Wednesday afternoon we finally saw the other shoe drop. After a 9-10-4 start that had the Toronto Maple Leafs flailing outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the club opted to let go of the highest-paid coach in the game. With him goes a legacy of success that Mike Babcock had fostered with his illustrious time in Detroit and with the Canadian National team.
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
When Babcock signed an eight-year deal that paid him 50 million over the duration back in 2015, the Leafs were in the throes of rebuilding. They would bottom out that first season and land the first overall pick and select Auston Matthews. It was supposed to be a decisive turnaround point in a franchise that had suffered decades of poor post-season results and nearly a 50-year Stanley Cup drought. And there were some good times – in the regular season anyway. But when push came to shove, a team peppered with star talent was unable to deliver early and often in 2019-20. Their defensive play has been putrid. Their stars failing to take steps forward. A new voice was needed to attempt a spark.
That new voice will come in the form of now-former Toronto Marlies coach, Sheldon Keefe. Keefe, a former NHLer, has a reputation as a 'player's coach' something we're seeing more and more of in a world where players under-25 are running the show and are not well versed in coaches limited communication and giving the tough love. The 39-year-old has found success at the lower levels – leading the Marlies to an AHL Championship in 2017-18 and winning the CHL Coach of the Year in 2014-15.
At the moment, it's difficult to ascertain what changes the new bench boss will make. Does this swap potentially open up new opportunities for a player like Tyson Barrie was has languished on the second power-play? It's difficult to see any new additions to the top-six forward group, but line blending is always a possibility with a new person at the helm. Realistically, the best that people can hope for is that the coach took the bullet and now the players will wake up and be reinvigorated. And a team with this much talent should be able to find another gear.
If they don't, it'll be Kyle Dubas on the hot seat next.
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