Lucas did an amazing job in his most recent blog offering his thoughts as to what went wrong in the playoff series against the Boston Bruins. He also correctly highlighted a lot of structural issues that haunted the Maple Leafs right from the regular season all the way through to the series loss to the Bruins.
Where there is a slight difference in opinion of the role/impact coach Mike Babcock played in the quick exit in this year’s playoffs, I have taken a week to let the dust settle, I am dogged by the feeling that this series was lost by coaching issues.
There are crucial areas in the series where the battle for inches was lost and where Babcock was simply outcoached by Bruce Cassidy.
Example 1 would be player deployment. Babcock, at the detriment of the team kept playing guys like Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown, and the fourth line far greater than he should have at the expense of his star players.
There is no reason at all that in a game where the series is on the line that players who aren’t producing are on the ice longer than guys like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner who are all key cogs to the Maple Leafs offence.
Cassidy noticed that when the Bruins needed a big goal, he shortened the bench and the Bruins best players played key minutes to try and swing their fortunes. Babcock’s affinity for his “favorites” was a major factor, It didn’t take long to see Marleau was a step behind, but there he was on the ice in the third period while Matthews sat stapled to the bench.
Instead of finding more ice time for his stars, Babcock somehow managed to find less for his and more specifically for Matthews. After game one, Matthews was one of the most dominant forwards on either team and yet only played about 19 minutes in the series deciding game.
Which takes me to the second issue with the coaching which was the stale and predictable Special Teams that were not only exposed in the playoffs, but were clearly exploited by the Bruins. Babcock’s insistence on trying to give his two PP units the same one minute of ice time can’t be happening at any time in a season much less in the playoffs. Cassidy on the other hand played his top PP unit for almost the entire power play, and were rewarded with key goals that swung games in their favour.
How a coach of Babcock’s pedigree and reputation to not show a willingness to fix what is broken is boggling to me. It appeared on many occasions that he took what wasn’t working personally. Heaven forbid anyone told him it wasn’t working, because he would just dig his heels in further with each response.
What makes all this more frustrating this year is that it presented the Maple Leafs an opportunity without Tampa or Washington in their way to make a deep run in the playoffs. It was the first year with a more complete team, one that had just added local boys John Tavares and Jake Muzzin to an already talented roster and one that was built to get past the first round.
I want to clarify that I am not arguing for a coaching change, but a change in Babcock personally to allow himself the ability to adapt. Babcock for the first time during his tenure in Toronto had a roster of talent not seen in his previous years. So I am frustrated to see a coach who is too egotistical to change up his lines and unwilling to sit key veterans if they aren’t producing and no one can be more frustrated right now than GM Kyle Dubas.
Marleau wasn’t the only one who struggled all year and couldn’t find himself in the dog house, yet Matthews and some of the younger guys appeared to have to fight for their ice time. Why couldn’t Trevor Moore have seen more ice time on the third line with Nylander when both would have benefitted from the other. What was it that the coach saw in Brown and Marleau that the rest of the world couldn’t?
There will most definitely be some tough conversations around Babcock and with him. I don’t know how much more GM Dubas will take of his coach’s passive aggressive swipes in media pressers and if Babcock continues to dig in his heels that may force the GM’s hand in the direction of a coaching change.
As GM Kyle Dubas said in his presser, no one is safe, everyone and everything will be re-evaluated. As with players, coaches too will be looked at to see what changes need to be made to make next season a more successful one.
This team is too talented to let this opportunity slip through their fingers with the salary cap looming as a major factor moving forward. Unlike last year, there are more questions than answers but I am confident in Shanahan and Dubas to do what is right for the team to reach the goal set out to bring the Stanley Cup home to Toronto. That just might mean and shift away from Babcock and the entering in of some new blood and a new vision in the way of Sheldon Keefe who has been coaching lights out with last year’s Calder Cup winning Toronto Marlies.