DETROIT – Mike Babcock was fired from his job as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
Some people were shocked, others not so much. Babcock’s relationaship with Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has been openly tumultuous at times over the past two seasons. Both have made public comments that appeared to disparage the other’s work. Babcock has cried foul about the depth, or lack of it, on his roster while Dubas has stuck to his belief in skills and underlying analytics, ignoring the cries for a different makeup for the lineup.
The fact is the team has underperformed for the past three seasons, getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each year. Depending on who you talk to, the Leafs’ woes are either Dubas’ fault, Babcock’s fault, or the faults of both.
This season, the expectations for the Leafs were sky-high -- a deep playoff run or bust. They have spent a lot of money to secure top forwards John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. They brought in defenseman Jake Muzzin last season, and then added Tyson Barrie in the offseason to bolster the blue line. This was supposed to be a tougher team to play against.
However, it was a slow start for the team this season (9-10-4), and Toronto’s six-game losing streak apparently was enough for Dubas and his boss, Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, to decide it was time to move on from Babcock.
Babcock takes the fall
It became clear about a week ago that something drastic was going to change for the Leafs. Firing the coach seemed like an obvious choice, but whether or not that fixes anything for this franchise will become clearer over the next few weeks. Dubas is bringing in his old friend Sheldon Keefe, who has been coaching Toronto’s AHL affiliate the past five seasons. His relationship with Dubas, however, dates back nearly a decade when Dubas was managing the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds with Keefe has the head coach.
In hindsight, we should have seen this coming years ago. This was the logical next step for Dubas, and when you look back it becomes more clear that Babcock was not going to be part of the future. Remember, he was hired when the Leafs had bottomed out, before Dubas was GM and the ship was being steered by famed GM Lou Lamariello. When Shanahan hired Dubas, Babcock probably knew he would be the odd man out if things went south.
Babcock left the Detroit Red Wings to help restore Toronto to the glory it has not seen in more than four decades. At least, that’s what we all thought. In reality, he was hired to help right the ship, and now his era is done.
Red Wings return? No
If you were following the news as it broke on Twitter, then you saw the tweets suggesting Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman would consider hiring Babcock. Of course, that would mean firing current Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill.
There is no reason to think this is at all a possibility.
Yzerman is busy trying to build a lineup and set the foundation for a stronger Red Wings roster, just as he did in Tampa. He has a players’ coach right now in Blashill, someone who has been touted as a coach who can develop young players. If Blashill wasn’t fired during the team’s horrific run a couple weeks ago (12 losses in 13 games) then he’s probably not going to be fired at any time soon.
Babcock’s availability shouldn’t change that. It wouldn’t be the smartest move to bring in an old-school coach who is less concerned about player development and more focused on grinding out wins. It didn’t exactly work in Toronto, and it probably wouldn’t work in Detroit.
Babcock will get hired somewhere, perhaps by a team later this season that decides to fire a coach. He could be an option for any team that is trying to make a playoff run and needs an experienced coach to help manage the roster. That’s not the Red Wings right now.
Yet, stranger things have happened.
Yzerman should fire blashill, hire Babcock and then fire him to show dominance and then go coachless for the rest of the season— making business call in the shower wearing airpods (@NiceGuyGreatGuy) November 20, 2019