TLN Roundtable: Trying to Trust the Process

RT

Frank Corrado has made some ears perk up over the last couple days with his outspokenness about his situation with the Leafs, and their apparent willingness to just flush seasons of his young career down the toilet while he sits doing nothing. No second half of back-to-backs, no AHL games, zip. 

And that’s stirred up the debate over Toronto’s blue-line yet again. The infamous “Hunlak” pairing continues to see significant minutes, usually under barrage in their own zone, while Corrado can’t get a sniff of icetime. Babcock has been asked about it on both fronts – Corrado’s potential to crack the lineup, and his own insistence on Hunlak playing meaningful minutes on a team that supposedly isn’t tanking – and you get the feeling things are going to come to a conclusion one way or another soon, like they did with the recently-shipped-out Peter Holland. 


So with all this talk about Toronto’s defencemen, and some of the fanbase split on Babcock’s comments, I was wondering if anyone is truly having their confidence shaken in the head coach. And we should note that Corrado himself believes he has the support of Lamoriello, so who knows if this is a point of much contention between the bench staff and front office.

For the purposes of this roundtable, I put the question to our writers this way: “There’s been a lot of debate over Babcock’s use of gritty veterans over some younger, more skilled options like Connor Carrick (at times), Frank Corrado (always) and the now-traded Peter Holland. This isn’t entirely new, and goes back to his days in Detroit when a lot of Wings fans were frustrated with lineup decisions along the same lines. Is this something that’s shaken your confidence in Babcock himself, or the overall process at all?”

RYAN HOBART

I would say my confidence is shaken a little bit. The pairing of Hunwick and Polak has been atrocious in terms of shot attempts but getting excellent save% behind them (something that they don’t influence significantly, despite what some may say). To me, it should be obvious that Marincin-Corrado are a better bottom pairing, and that Connor Carrick is significantly better than all 4 of them. But Babcock doesn’t see better with Polak and Hunwick, he sees “harder working”. This is an issue that is contributing to the Leafs’ poor defense. That pairing is a huge part of the problem, and that Babcock refuses to even attempt to play Frank Corrado is a concern for me.

KATY TEARLE

To quote a text exchange I had while at the game last night (free tickets from work, what up): “‘Polak, Hunwick, and Brown out for the 5-on-3. Kill me.’ ‘Catch cry of Leafs fans everywhere.'” I can definitely say that my faith is shaken a bit. The Hunwick-Polak pairing is concerning at best, and Marincin-Corrado is definitely a more skilled bottom pairing. Or even better, Carrick with either of them. There seems to be a disconnect with Babcock between his desire to succeed with the Maple Leafs young guns, and his desire to prop them up with hard working veterans. Add to that his refusal to play Corrado and management’s refusal to waive him, along with his comment that getting into the lineup is dependent on how you play? Yeah, my faith is a little shaken.

JEFF VEILLETTE

I don’t think what’s happening with Babcock’s decisions in depth positions is something that shakes my confidence in him. Anybody who was paying attention to how he’s built teams elsewhere knew that this method of roster composition is a staple. For better or worse, he’s a results-driven coach who values outward effort and physical resiliency.

Maybe he’s right to; we all have our opinions on how to build a team, and while I disagree with some of his choices right now, it’s very possible that the guy they pay $50 million to might be onto something that the local blogger isn’t. But heading back towards a meat and potatoes approach to building a team isn’t want we expected from this management group and the staff members that feed into it. There are two trains of thought here; either they believe that’s the way to go, or they’re merely trying to appease their coach. If its the former, I respectfully disagree and will continue to make that known until we have a definitive outcome. If it’s the latter, someone please turn around to the war room and point out that there are six and a half years left on Babcock’s binding contract, and if they don’t want him to dress these players, they don’t have to acquire them for him.

I guess the short answer here is that this is about what I expected from Babcock, but not what I did from management, and we’ll see why that is and if it’s the right call in due time.

RYAN FANCEY

I don’t think I’ve lost any confidence in Babcock, because questions about his iffy lineup decisions were well-communicated by Wings writers for a while. Like Jeff, I am a bit surprised though by the management group and how they’ve facilitated this situation and allowed Babcock to have access to players he perceives as veteran safety nets. It isn’t what I thought “The Process” was about.

The Leafs will obviously be fine. They have stars-in-the-making and what looks to be a generational center in Matthews, to go along with Babcock’s unquestionably strong tactics. But when concerns arise about deployment like they have in the past week in particular, you start to wonder about the push-and-pull within the team and how some aspects of its performance are trade-offs for potential others. It’s likely a conversation we’ll be having a lot in the next few years. Shouldn’t be anything too serious, as long as they can win. 

  • LukeDaDrifter

    There are really two completely separate issues here.

    1. Is it good management to put an individual player’s interest ahead of team interest?

    With Marincin out 4/6 weeks, if you trade or waive Corrado you have weakened the team, in the likely event the Leafs have another serious injury. Just looking around the league I see some teams with major injury problems. Is it reasonable to expect our turn is coming? Corrado did see lots of ice time after Hunwick was out for the season last year. What makes Corrado’s case somewhat different than others is the amount of time he has been in limbo, at a fairly young age. Corrado has stated recently that the Leafs are taking food off his table. ( I suppose he has a healthy appetite) After one and a half years there is certainly a good case for that opinion. The Leafs have accommodated Holland. Will Leivo be next? Leipsic also has a good case for the Leafs to either shit or get off the pot. With all the top prospects the Leafs have in the system should we expect this to be an annual problem for the next few years? What is the correct solution? Should we acquire them, develop them, then move them on so they reach their personal career goals and receive drafts picks in return then start the process all over again? I don’t believe this is an easy problem to solve. After all we are talking about human beings not just hockey players.

    I don’t believe for one moment there is any real disconnect between Babcock and the rest of the Leafs brain-trust. Because Frankie said Lamorrello “told me he likes me, and he wants me here. That sounds more like the typical diplomatic answer, Lou often makes.

    2. Should Corrado be playing and Polak or Hunwick be in the press box instead.

    This is a very subjective issue with all kinds of stats saying yes and some stats saying no. Is it reasonable to combine all he stats to get a clearer picture?

    It seems to me it is redundant to hire a coach, pay him 7 million a year then tell him how to coach. If that was your intent then you could have easily saved the 7 million and coached the team yourself or hired a coach who would do exactly as you say for far less money. If a coach doesn’t have control of who he dresses for each game he is screwed. I think Vancouver is an example of where the ownership micromanages the team. Nobody out that way seems happy with that scenario.

    Finally: Why are we playing Sherlock Holmes and trying to create some sort of conflict between Babcock and the rest of the management team when there is no prima facie evidence to think there is?

    • Glen

      Rielly and Zaitsev are – 17, while Hunwick and Polak are plus 5. Plus minus is far from a complete indication of play, but it does tell part of the story. Rielly is getting burned a lot this year, that is a concern and needs to be corrected if this team is going to go to the next level.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        I would include something one of the Stans pointed out the other day. The Leafs are 4th in the league in killing off penalties. Polak and Hunwick are a big part of that. Sometimes we forget just how important it is to kill off a penalty. I know my stress level goes up every time we take one. Killing penalties is a big part of the role for bottom six defencemen along with the bottom four forward line. Unfortunately there is not a lot of glory goes with those jobs.

      • Tigon

        It’s easy to have a bad +/- when you play the most minutes of your position and against the best players of the other team, that’s the story.

        Connor Brown was a -72 when we drafted him. He was the best player on the worst team so he was on the ice a lot. The team was 10-52-3, brutal. +/- is a bad Stat, just like GAA.

        • Glen

          Any stat doesn’t tell the complete story, but it does tell part of it. Hunwick and Polak are on the ice a lot against the other teams power play and seem to do OK, not that that counts in the plus/minus. Your best D are supposed to be able to shut down the other teams best players, if they can’t you have a problem. Reilly seems to have a lot of talent, but he doesn’t seem to be putting it to use. He needs to round out his game. Believe me as a long suffering Leaf fan I want to see him become a star.

    • LukeWarmWater

      Come Watson the game is afoot. As usual it is elementary my dear brother Luke. I think what the game plan for the leafs, who won’t make the playoffs with the way that one division is going these days is to use at least one of the young Marlie kids and Frankie more after the trade dead line. I couldn’t agree with you more how important the penalty kill is as how many years have we watched leaf teams be at the bottom of the heap and get beaten by two or three power play goals by the opposition. As you point out Hunwick and Polak are doing a superb job on the important penalty kill. Trust me the usual suspects would be howling in here if our penalty kill was poor.

      I think Glen is right about Rielly who seems to be making the mistakes that Jake Gardiner was infamous for in coughing up the puck. Ironically Gardiner has really improved his game both offensively 5 goals to date and defensively. Perhaps Rielly is trying to do too much especially in rushing the puck and getting caught up ice far too often. A bit of Subban and Karlson going on there. As I stated by the time this club is a solid contender neither Hunwick or Polak are likely to be around. So to once again quote my buddy Willie Shakespeare. Much ado about nothing.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        Offensively Rielly is still leading Gardiner by two points.

        One goal plus 14 assists vs 5 goals plus 8 assists.

        Defensively Rielly is minus 7 vs Gardiner’s plus 3.

        Using the eye test I would agree with you. The whole top offensive group seem to be overplaying their game. Things like one pass too many too often. High risk plays in general. The result seems to be games where we appear to be in total control but are not actually putting the puck in the net all that often enough to win. Defensively those high risk plays that often go wrong, leading to Andersen having to save their bacon. Unfortunately for Andersen those types of saves are just another save towards his save percentage of the total shots he has stopped. Let’s not forget this year Rielly is finally being asked to play his natural left defensive side. He is not seeing as much powerplay time as he has in years gone by. Are you saying Babcock is spending part of this season to teach the the rookies how to play the NHL game? Do you feel Rielly needs to calm down and not get so caught up with the quick transition game just because there is super speed on our top nine? You kmow it has to be tempting. In spite of lots of sloppy play,our goals against has not been all that bad lately. Our shots on the opposition have mostly been over forty and sometimes over fifty. Yet we still we are heading into overtime far too often. How long can we continually keep blaming the other teams goalie for stealing the game for them? Do we need to start looking closer on what is going wrong with our shooters? I think most of us would agree the guys we have in the top nine have a good reputation for scoring goals. For some not so obvious reason, it in not happening lately. Can that simply be put down to Babcock has far too much to teach with so many rookies in the lineup? Can we say it’s just a mater of time? Can we say Rome wasn’t build in a day? Being as we are so close, are we now rushing the for the finish line too fast? Is patience really a virtue? Can we say, as you say, “Much ado about nothing” ?.

        Finally is it written Defenders shall be always crapped on from a great height if the team loses the game? Along with Thou shalt not speak badly of our top paid forwards.for therein our future lies. Is the best defense really more offense?

  • Kevin

    My opinion of Babcock has not changed based on his lineup deployment. I think it’s natural that fans may question some of the decisions a coach or management makes. One thing I notice on these types of blogs is the amount of bloggers who base their analysis primarily on advanced stats. I see a lot of value in advance stats but I think context is lacking if you solely rely on these metrics. There is also justification for using role players, such as in penalty killing or to increase team toughness. Is Corrado a better option than Hunwick or Polak on the penalty kill? Can Corrado match the physical presence of Polak?

    That being said, if the plan is to include Corrado as part of the defense group, Babcock could have found him more time than 16min total after 29 games. That is more than a bit ridiculous… you’d think he’d get the call on back-to-backs at least. With Marincin out long term, Corrado should get more of a chance to play. However, if that is not the case, I would rather the Leafs attempt trading him or waive him and get him a chance to play. It’s not fair to continue not playing him.

  • Stan Smith

    I find it strange that supposedly knowledgeable writers are criticizing Babcock for playing veterans and not youth. Seems to me he is using something like 7 rookies while more experienced guys like Laich and Michalek have been sent to the minors.
    What he is doing is playing dependable veterans in place of young fringe NHLers.

    In the case of the Hunlack conspiracy the people on board with that are those that fail to see the value of players that do not create offence. Its all about the almighty Corsi to them. The fact that the Leafs give up the fewest goals with Hunlack on the ice, for some unknown reason, doesn’t seem to be all that important to them.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      It makes you wonder how many people realize when the Leafs look to replace Hunwick and Polak they are looking for even better penalty killers and stronger defenders with better wheels, and at what cost. The plan has always been to let the top four generate most if not all the offense. If we do acquire a top pairing or even a top four it is unlikely they will be expecting to see much time playing the bottom pairing defensive penalty killing role. As my brother Luke states above, he remembers well how year after year we were at the bottom of the heap when it came to killing penalties. Constantly giving up two or three powerplay goals.

  • The China Wall

    No one in the current Leafs management group has done anything for me to lose any level of confidence in them. In fact, every day I give thanks to the big man upstairs (and I’m not talking about R. Peddie lol) that we have the group we have.

    But I’m still amazed by the collective angst that is being spilled out into the blogsphere about a 8th D-man (Corrado) and a 4C (Smith).

    IMO, Leafs management has already made up their mind about Frankie – he is seen as the Leafs 8th best D-man or more accurately, their 4th best RHD. For Frankie this is unfortunate as his current waiver status means he is going to spend a lot of time in the press box – very bad for a 23 yo at the beginning of what I’m sure he hopes is a long professional career.

    Unlike some of the other younger Leafs, Frankie wasn’t able to pass on the depth chart his veteran competition and have those vets banished to the Marlies. As the Lukes point out in these comments, vets like Michalek and Laich were passed on the depth chart by younger players who were seen as better options and those two are now collecting their NHL salaries at the AHL level.

    All of this makes me wonder how much angst is going to come to pass when these kind of roster decisions start making themselves felt further up in the lineup – I’ll get my popcorn ready now to enjoy that show… ha ha ha

  • Brandon

    What I don’t understand about the whole Corrado thing is that even if he isn’t as good as Hunwick or Polak right now, we can be confident that those two have reached their maximum potential, while it’s unlikely Corrado has. Given that the Leafs are developing a core to compete in the next few years, why wouldn’t they work on Corrado to get a better sense of what he could be at that time? They’re already following that model with several of the youngsters, but not Corrado. So I think there’s a case to be made that Hunwick and Polak are better right now, but neither will be on the Leafs in a few years. Why not work on Corrado to see what his potential could be? I like Babcock and I think he’s a good coach, but the Corrado management does puzzle me.