Mike Babcock Throws Shade At Leafs Fitness Levels

The Toronto Maple Leafs knew that things would be different under highly esteemed bench boss Mike Babcock. After all, he was brought in on the highest salary to ever get paid to an NHL coach – a whopping $6.25 million per season – to try and fix the runaway train that the Leafs have become in the post-Pat Quinn era. 

No one expects Babcock to be nice to the Leafs as he whips them back into shape. He’s there to win a Stanley Cup, after all, not make friends and baby the players. 

Well… he’s meeting those ‘tough love’ expectations pretty well. 

Babcock held the Leafs off the ice on Sunday. 

Most teams would probably describe a day off the ice as a ‘maintenance day’ or a ‘rest day’; especially in pre-season, it’s important to find that line between working the team back into regular season shape and pushing hard enough that someone gets injured. Good coaches know where that line is, and they don’t cross it. 

Babcock didn’t call it a maintenance day, though. The former Detroit Red Wings head coach made it clear that he normally wouldn’t have called a maintenance day – but that this team needed it. 


This is oddly reminiscent of the comments that Paul Maurice made when he came on board with the Winnipeg Jets this past year; although Maurice was a bit more blunt about it, the message is the same. Both Babcock and Maurice are asserting that the team’s are out of shape and unprepared to play the kind of hockey that these two coaches expect of them; by proxy, they’re asserting that the coaches that came before them weren’t coaching these teams to be NHL-calibre rosters. 

All things considered, hearing these comments about this group of Leafs isn’t exactly surprising. We mocked the news that Phil Kessel had dropped 13 lbs following his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that should have been a telling sign about the rest of the club. TLN’s own Steve Dangle made a comment upon Kessel’s trade: 

Fast forward to 2:05 and watch that little clip. Right there.

All funny voices and entertainment-driven meltdowns aside, the suggestion that Kessel was out of shape -yet managed to lead the team in scoring for six consecutive seasons – is a pretty good indicator that chances are, he wasn’t the only one on the club who wasn’t in the shape he should have been. Add in the number of players now on the Leafs who have been shuttled around multiple times in recent years – giving them less chance of adapting to a structured fitness regime in a singular environment – and it’s really not all that shocking to hear Babcock alluding to the club needing more stamina in order to be taken seriously. 

The good news, though, is that Babcock is probably the first coach in recent Leafs history to openly identify this as a problem with the organization. That means he’s got a decent shot at fixing it… and that’s just going to bring the club one step closer to finally performing at the level they’re expected to once again. 

Idunno, that’s just my observation. 

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  • Harte of a Lion

    This is the least shady comment I have ever heard. Shade requires subtlety. Shade is an insult masquerading as a compliment. It is, in fact, SHADY.

    This is blatant. It’s a blatant overt statement. Not shady in the least. Man, good shade is a thing of beauty. I was very disappointed to realize it’s not shade, just another misuse of the term. Not EVERY insult is shade, people. My word.

    • Gary Empey

      Here in the Philippines “shade” is a highly valued commodity.

      This is the first time I have come across this meaning of the shade word. So I looked it up.

      The urban dictionary defines Shade as:–acting in a casual or disrespectful manner towards someone/dissing a friend

      Or: –throwing shade, acting kinda shady


      Babcock saying “Babcock “A year from now they’d be able to handle it…it’s different than they’re used to.”

      Is that not “acting in a casual or disrespectful manner towards someone/dissing a friend”?


      Personally I think that by critisizing Cat Silverman in the vain hope to get a date with her is: “Shady” in the old fashioned way.

  • silentbob

    I would guess Babcock isn’t the only coach to identify this issue with the Leafs, but he is the first to be ABLE to fix it.

    The last few guys had contracts shorter then most of the players, they made less then a lot of the players (easier to fire the coach….) and there were reports here and there that indicated that the players, at least in some ways, were running the place (like management not backing Carlyle up when he wanted to “get tough” on Kessel).

    None of this seems to be the case now. Babcock’s contract is longer then any players, he is making more money then every player except Phaneuf, and he is part of the management group. If you look at what Babcock said about “what a Leaf will be” going forward, it is pretty much the opposite of Phil Kessel and they wasted no time in trading him…… I agree Babcock will be able to fix this problem, but because his position is such that…..if a player don’t get in line, they’ll be gone.

  • STAN

    Getting into and staying in tip-top condition should be a given in professional sports. Players can easily afford personal trainers and eating properly shouldn’t be that difficult.

    As for the Leafs, even if they were in the best shape in the league they don’t have enough talent or leadership (see the salute-refusing Pylon) to really contend.

    The likes of Winnik, Matthias and Boyes will make this an intriguing season as returnees Kadri, Lupul, JvR and Bozak TRY to lead by example.

  • I think Steve Dangle was talking on the podcast about the possibility that some NHL players are over-fit – the idea that if you put too much strain on your body and get your body fat % down too low, it can actually make you more susceptible to injury – a guy like David Booth is known to be a complete fitness nut and was probably the fittest guy on the Leafs last year, and he’s one of the most injury-prone guys in the league. Kessel’s a little doughy, and he never gets hurt.

    On the flip side, the Sedins are two of the fittest players in the league and they’re almost never injured, so maybe that’s BS.