Photo Credit: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports
In the three weeks since he became the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs – it still feels good, doesn’t it – we haven’t seen a single public action or comment (aside from the lengthy introductory press conference) from Mike Babcock, but undoubtedly he’s a big part
of the discussions that are leading into the biggest player transaction period
of the year.
There aren’t any specific rumours floating around in the ether involving Babcock’s former charges, but it’s frequently observed that in sports, and in all industries and walks of life, familiarity can be a decisive factor when it comes to personnel decisions. While Babcock pulling Niklas Lidstrom out of retirement, or magically poaching Datsyuk, Zetterberg,
Nyquist, and Kronwall would help the Maple Leafs, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not a realistic possibility. On the flip side, I also doubts that Babcock is still looking to drain
the last hockey from Dan Cleary’s bones..
With those players off the table,
here’s a list of five former Babcock players whom the Maple Leafs could be looking to
target this offseason.
5. Tomas Kopecky- F
A throwback to Babcock’s glory days in Detroit, Kopecky has
been on a steady decline, aided by some underperforming Florida teams. A fairly
sheltered forward during his time under Babcock, Kopecky has primarily
been trotted out in a more defense oriented role and has faced tougher competition
during his time as a Panther. With only eight points in 64 games last season,
Kopecky is a reclamation project, and may be a cheap
veteran presence in the bottom-six to work with a player like Sam Carrick.
4. Matt Cullen- C
Hopping in the way back machine, we are able to see that
Matt Cullen and Mike Babcock spent some time together in Anaheim in the early
2000s. While he’s not a Red Wings era Babcock player, including him on the list
prevents me from considering Jonas Gustavsson, so he’s somewhat necessary.
What you get with Cullen is a reliable center who could
allow for the departure of Bozak without rushing kids into situations they can’t
handle, and you get that veteran leader presence that I’m positive no one
making the decisions in Toronto puts too much stock in anymore.
Cullen would be a great if picked up for pennies on the
dollar late in the summer, but odds are the limited number of centres available
has him spoken for, and overpaid for long before Toronto gets around to his
name on their list.
3. Brendan Smith- D
Smith leads off the list, and may be a little coincidental
rather than a specific Babcock target. A lot of this is dependent on Ken
Holland being the driving force behind Detroit’s interest in Phaneuf, and
that Brendan Smith was always meant to be a part of that deal.
Smith gives Leafs fans the opportunity to once again trot
out our best Mimico jokes, but is also a reliable left-handed defender who
offers a very different style on that side of the ice than Morgan Rielly or
From a numbers perspective, Smith had a 55.4% Corsi For%,
with Corsi Rel of 2.7. He was fairly sheltered getting 59.7% offensive zone
starts. Smith is currently a restricted free agent, and likely one expecting
2. Stephen Weiss- C
Similar to Brendan Smith, Weiss had connections to the rumoured
Phaneuf deal at the trade deadline.
If that general structure is is revisited, Weiss’ salary could be dumped into the laps
of the Leafs. The downside to Weiss is that he hasn’t been very good recently
and carries a bloated contract with three-years remaining on a deal with a $4.9 million annual average value. He’ll also very likely spend some time
on the injured reserve over those three years…
On the plus side, Weiss was recruited to the Wings by Mike
Babcock, so he could see potential there (or no longer sees it, and is happy to
be away from him.) Weiss would play a very different role on a Leafs club than
one that has Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and potentially with that increased top-six ice time comes the opportunity to increase his trade value.
1. Patrick Eaves- F
A 31-year-old winger who had somewhat of a rebound year, if Eaves
is looking to work with Babcock again, this could be an excellent fit.
Having served largely in a bottom-six capacity in Detroit,
Eaves has evolved into a jack of all trades, capable of moving up and down the lineup. That said the Maple Leafs should be a bit wary of bidding too much on Eaves, considering his durability concerns and the fact that they just shouldn’t spend on a depth piece. Eaves’ hard
style of play has taken a toll on him, and his injury situation may in fact be
worse than even Stephen Weiss’.
Eaves’ career has never seen him fall below 49.9% CF%, though he has generally played in more sheltered situations – as a bottom-of-the-lineup piece – throughout his career. He’s still
worth the trouble though, especially coming off 14 goals in 47 games.
Looking at these names has to leave most Leafs fans pretty unenthusiastic,
but it’s the names I’ve purposely avoided that provide some hope.
In the event of a Phaneuf trade with Detroit, where the
Leafs take on Smith and/or Weiss, you have Mike Babcock providing insight on
who the payoff player will be. Babcock’s knowledge of Sheahan, Jurco, and
Pulkkinen may prove beneficial in this hypothetical and admittedly speculative situation.
He could have a soft spot in his heart for Brett Lebda, and
we’re doomed to repeat the same cycle over and over again.
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