What the fourth overall pick might tell us about Leafs management

A week ago I wrote about the Leafs’ decision over their top pick, and whether that process might be presenting some substantial debate within the front office. It’s becoming more and more evident leading up to tonight that the people in that room have their favourites, and the two biggest voices appear to be Mike Babcock and Mark Hunter. 

The ties between Hunter and highly-touted prospect Mitch Marner don’t need to be covered here again, we understand how they’re linked. On the other side, Babcock has apparently integrated himself into the Leafs’ draft decision processes, and by most accounts it seems he really wants the team to build from the blue line up, targeting names like Noah Hanifin and Ivan Provorov. As Bob McKenzie mentioned last week, we’ll see who gets their way at the draft table tonight.

But does this sort of news signal a potential problem in the organization? If Shanahan (and I’m assuming he has final say) decides to side with Babcock’s view and overrules Hunter – a guy he’s pegged with overseeing the draft for the most part – will a rift emerge among the group? I mean, it doesn’t seem out of the question, especially keeping in mind Hunter’s brother, Dale, didn’t last long in the NHL. Mark Hunter is likely used to running things his way in London, and he probably needs to be the authority here for draft-related decisions.

James Mirtle from the Globe covered the story this morning, and he had some interesting information on how things are shaking out.

Make no mistake, Babcock has become an important voice for the Leafs. In the five weeks since signing an eight-year, $50-million (U.S.) deal, he has been putting in 12-hour days, working and debating with the scouting staff and management over their choices….His vision for how the Leafs will play mirrors his philosophy in Detroit and with Team Canada: He wants a team that moves and thinks fast and that doesn’t spend a lot of time in its own end….Strength on the blueline and at centre is paramount. A smallish winger? Not as much.

Personally I think the Leafs will defer to Hunter and take Marner at four, he should still be the favourite. However, we did get some news this morning that the team interviewed with Noah Hanifin’s family and will work out the defenceman ahead of the draft, so that throws another dose of gas on the fire for questions about the level of Babcock’s influence.

Basically all that’s left now is for the Leafs to, you know, actually make the pick. But if both Hanifin and Marner are on the board when they do, keep in mind that which way they go likely says a lot about whose voice is the loudest at that table.

  • FlareKnight

    I honestly don’t think whichever way they go means anything or causes a rift in management. Babcock isn’t an idiot who is going to push his guy over top of someone who has been watching these guys. Babcock probably hasn’t seen either of those guys play live.

    I’m sure they are discussing who to take at 4 since there are some very good options. But I’d be amazed if it was really a Babcock vs Hunter war of the draft table.

  • Benjamin

    It’s Hunter’s call, full stop. Whether we end up with Strome, Marner, Hanafin or Provorov, it shouldn’t blur the fact that this is Hunter’s day.

    Mike Babcock gets to put his 2c in, like everyone else in upper management, but he hasn’t suddenly become the director of amateur scouting. What’s next, Babcock is going to start dolling out the strength and conditioning programs for all the players too?

    I know this management scheme is touting itself as collaborative, and that’s a good thing. But, at the end of the day, people have jobs and specific roles that they are fulfilling within the organization. You have to let people do their jobs and I couldn’t be happier with having Hunter in charge today.

    • silentbob

      Probably

      But Hunter would be a fool to ignore his coach when making this decision. IF Babcock does/is saying “I want Hanifin or Strome, they suit my systems and style better etc…” it would be foolish to take Marner to spite him.

      • Benjamin

        At that point, why not just make Babcock the GM?

        Because if you want to take his preferences about 18 year old junior hockey players as the final word, then you’re sure as heck going to have to do the same for free agents and trades.

        Again, I’m not saying you don’t listen to Babcock’s opinion. But I trust Hunter is the one making the final call on which 18 year old will have the best NHL career.

        • silentbob

          Because the GM does a lot more then decide how the team plays. You could argue that the coach is the one who SHOULD be deciding what kind of players the team needs and its up to the GM and scouts and find the players who best suit the coaches needs and wants.

          From what we’ve heard Hunter is the man making the final decision. But he would be foolish to ignore what his coach is saying. If his coach is saying “my style, my system requires top level D-men and strength down the middle, and all things being equal, I’d rather have a D-man like Hanifin or a center like Strome over a winger like Marner, unless Hunter is convinced that the gap between Marner and the other is significant, he’d be a fool to ignore what Babcock is saying. I don’t think Hunter is a fool.

          • Benjamin

            It’s BPA at the draft, no ifs ands or buts. If you’re drafting players that are going to peak 5+ years down the road based on your current head coach, you’ve already lost. Babcock doesn’t get to pick Team Canada here, he’s going to have to do the best he can with what he’s given because there’s 29 other teams on an equal playing field trying to be better at the exact same things.

            I know it seems like a foregone conclusion that each one of these guys is going to be a perennial all-star. People treat this like its just personal preference on whether you’d like Kane 2.0, Tavares 2.0 or Hedman 2.0.

            The reality is, players taken even a single position apart almost always have very different career paths. The draft is about picking 18 year olds that you think have the best NHL careers ahead of them and nothing else.