By: Andy Palm, Columnist
The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t seemed to have found their footing just yet this season. The chemistry has just seemed off, mistakes are being made, the team is not the offensive juggernaut that it was supposed to be, and they just can’t seem to figure out why. In situations like this, there is one person in a high position who usually has to face the music and take the fall; the head coach. That is exactly what has happened, as the Maple Leafs have relieved head coach Mike Babcock of his duties this past week. Toronto named Sheldon Keefe as Babcock’s replacement. Keefe formerly coached the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
Babcock’s tenure with Toronto is a mixed bag. On the positive side, he took a struggling organization and was able to bring them back to respectability. He and general manager Kyle Dubas did a tremendous job of drafting great young talent and mixing it with solid veterans. The team has been competitive throughout Babcocks time there, finishing with 100-plus points in each of the past two seasons.
Despite the regular season success, they were never able to get past the first round of the playoffs. In the three times they qualified for postseason play under Babcock’s watch, they lost to the Washington Capitals in 2017, and then to the Boston Bruins in both 2018 and 2019. The playoff failure is something that loomed large over Babcock’s head this season. There was a feeling that if things didn’t change this season, his job could be in jeopardy. After a 9-10-4 start to the 2019-20 season, the Leafs decided to go in a different direction for the rest of the year.
The big question is, was this a premature reaction in a state of panic by the front office of Toronto, or was it really time for Babcock to go? Coaches like Babcock don’t come around every day. His success with the Detroit Red Wings speaks for itself, along with the success he had in his relatively short time in Toronto. There was a sense of frustration this season between the players and Babcock.
It seemed as if the team felt they weren’t being utilized correctly, and Babcock’s stubbornness was somewhat holding them back. Now, the Leafs look to have a fresh start with new head coach Sheldon Keefe. The 39-year-old Keefe brings a new, young mindset to this talent-heavy roster. In his first game at the helm, Toronto defeated the Arizona Coyotes 3-1. After the game, it seemed that the locker room had been reenergized.
Some players felt that Keefe made the necessary adjustments that the team had been looking for. Defenseman Tyson Barrie was very happy with the new style of play, as he was able to net his first goal of the season against Arizona. Keefe is a big believer in maximizing the offensive talent that the Maple Leafs possess and that the production from the back end will increase because of that. Toronto looks to ride this for the rest of the season, and hopefully find more success than they’ve had so far.