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.
Babcock kept Leafs off ice Sunday due to fatigue. “A year from now they’d be able to handle it…it’s different than they’re used to.”
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) September 28, 2015
That is SUCH SHADE THROWN.
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.