Babcock was always going to be fired
The Maple Leafs were always going to fire Mike Babcock this season.
Well, let me correct that: Barring a Stanley Cup, the Leafs were always going to fire Mike Babcock this season. (Nice, totally realistic expectations you have there.) It may seem like a bold thing to suggest -- not so much after Babcock’s firing on Wednesday -- but we’ve seen this story before.
The Leafs had exhausted every possible option to give this group a chance to win. The facts are the facts, and they’ve committed half of their salary cap to four forwards. This was a decision they made, and were clearly going to live with. With that in mind, they tried to rework their defense -- they added Jake Muzzin, Tyson Barrie, and Cody Ceci over the last nine months -- to an acceptable degree. They even swallowed trading a first-round pick to rid themselves of Patrick Marleau’s nightmarish deal.
With their cap woes not going away anytime soon, their time was now.
But those lofty expectations were met with nine wins through the first 23 games of the new season, and with some of the most apathetic, tuned-out hockey you can ever see a team play. It wasn’t hard to imagine that you could’ve gotten the same results for a lot less than $50 million over eight years.
And at the end of the day, that was really the big thing staring the Leafs in the face: If Babcock couldn’t build something formidable out of this roster, and at that salary, was he really worth the salary in the first place? I mean, this is a guy who won with an in-prime Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom, and coached a Team Canada that you or I could have coached to Gold. It seems preposterous to stand by the guy who only wins when you give him a billion all-world talents.
At some point, Babcock’s coaching prowess needed to take over. And it never seemed to.
Not when the Leafs started every game like they were just waking up from an accidental nap (you know the feeling), their penalty kill got worse, and their entire team seemed worse than they were a year ago and even two years ago, when they were unable to beat the Bruins in Game 7s.
This was a dead team walking.
And, again, we’ve seen this before.
I remember watching the 2016-17 Bruins knowing that Claude Julien was going to be fired. You just knew it was coming. In-season, post-season, it didn’t matter. It was 100 percent happening. With each lifeless loss, you wondered if tonight would be the night, or if the Bruins would continue to drag things out for some insane reason. That 100 percent impacted the Boston dressing room, too. There was this insane tension that surrounded the team after every loss (hell, it followed them after wins, too), knowing that they were closer to costing their coach his job, and it became suffocating.
There was also the fact that Bruce Cassidy was general manager Don Sweeney’s guy, and he was just waiting for the right moment to make the switch. Just like how many view the relationship between Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and now-Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe.
And it was always going to be Babcock before Dubas.
But now comes Dubas’ turn to feel the heat.
Some other thoughts and tidbits from around the NHL…
- A Boston-Washington third-round date is the best thing that could happen to the West in 2020. These teams will beat the absolute piss out of one another over the course of a seven-game series.
- The Islanders are the best pro sports franchise in New York. And by a mile. What a time to be alive. For real though, I love what this group is doing. I bit on last year being a fluke, and boy was that wrong as hell. Do they still have that sports bar in the hotel across the street from the Coliseum? I hung out with Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley there one night back in 2011. They had no idea who I was back then. Then again, I’m not entirely sure they know who I am now, and that’s OK.
- Hoping for the best for Bobby Ryan. Always respected his game. That’s something we often lose sight of when we look at bloated contracts, but he’s always been a stand-up person.
Ty Anderson is a writer, columnist, and weird personality for 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, where he covers all things Boston sports. He has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, and has also been part of the Boston Chapter of the PHWA since 2013. In addition to writing, Ty can occasionally be heard on the air at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and seen and/or heard on the NHL Network every now and then. He will not give you his email, so yell at him on Twitter (@_TyAnderson).