There is no way to avoid it.
The rumours about whether or not Mike Babcock will return to be the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs is constant and nowhere near to quieting down.
Like an annoying fly swirling around your ear, for the rest of the offseason until something is said or done, there is going to be tons of hypothetical situations to talk about.
It’s already starting early, with Elliotte Friedman going on Sportsnet 960 and discussing the head coaching options for the Leafs this summer.
Friedman had a radio hit on SN960 where he spoke extensively about Dubas, Babcock, and Keefe. I transcribed just about all of it below. The most interesting part is whether or not Dubas picks Keefe to prevent losing him to BUF (or another team). pic.twitter.com/Nb64byQLpE
— James (@Account4hockey) April 27, 2019
The part of this that is slightly new information — might be pure speculation from Friedman as well — is the fact that Keefe might be in position to take over the vacant head coaching role for the Buffalo Sabres.
Moving to a division rival could be extremely interesting for the storylines, but as Friedman says later in the radio hit, if the Sabres come knocking and approach Dubas to interview the Marlies’ coach for the job, it might push him into making a decision.
To simply, and so casually, let go of the coach that you had success with at the Soo Greyhounds and won the Calder Cup with, would be surprising. Keefe and Dubas are inherently linked no matter what.
Just as it was obvious what direction Shanahan is taking this team with making Dubas his GM, the coaching position is completely laid out for Keefe. There is just one giant reputable wall blocking his way.
Mentioned in the middle of Friedman’s hit, Dubas and Babcock have different philosophies of how a hockey team should be ran. From player management to the on-ice product, there are at fairly different ends of the spectrum.
Not to say that neither of them are able to move within their outside labels of new school and old school, but there comes a point where both must know where this is going. Different voices in the room is great and all, until there is a key moment that messes up everything.
Dubas is not one to focus on small sample size, such as a couple of playoff series, but now might be the time to move on for both of them. Especially with Buffalo breathing down the necks of this franchise, both Dubas and Babcock knows who has the power and how this will turn out.
There’s no reason to waste another year of trying to make a balance of what Dubas and Babcock both individually want the Leafs to be.
Coexisting is possible, but there is always the chance that in such a tightly-contested playoff series like the one that just ended, the smallest of things have a massive impact. Playing the game of “what if?” when it comes to player’s linemates or ice-time might seem arbitrary and pointless, but I’m sure Dubas would rather have that be his mistake.
Taking responsibility of the situation during locker clean-out day, it showed that Dubas would rather try and fail with his preferred philosophies, than fail due to a lack of communication between coach and GM.
If there is indeed outside pressure from the Sabres organization for an internal decision to be made, it makes sense that Dubas is going to live and die with Keefe.
The only thing that is constant through decision like this in the NHL is that the general manager starts a clock on his own job. If this hypothetical firing comes from mainly Dubas and Shanahan trusts him to make his own decisions, there will be some added pressure on upcoming performance.
If a Leafs team run by Keefe performs about the same way as Babcock’s teams have, it could be a tricky situation for the whole Leafs front office.
This decision to let go of the current head coach would not just come from Dubas either. Although he does have the power to do so, there will be ongoing discussions on how to approach the situation.
No matter what, there will be some sort of change coming — you can just feel it.
Even though there are suggestions that Keefe could just be one of Babcock’s assistants for next year, working his way up the ladder, it’s hard to see that happening.
To go from controlling his own bench with the Marlies and running the team well enough to win a Calder Cup and upset the Rochester Americans with a sweep, to being in charge of one minute detail on the Leafs’ bench would be a confusing decision.
It might be a controversial decision around the Hockey World but if Dubas was to just wipe the coaching slate clean after this disappointing season, no one could really blame him. To be that proactive is something that this league rarely sees.
Coaches are always given extra chances and most just prolong their own demise. There is really no reason to just keep Babcock around and to not transition into this new coaching reign.
One of the richest financial teams in the league would not have to worry about any millions of dollars lost anyway. A couple poor playoff series did not ruin Babcock’s reputation around the league. There is guaranteed to be several general managers leaping at the opportunity to bring him in — one is right down the QEW.
Coming from multiple angles, this upcoming decision just makes sense. Where the organization is heading, how Dubas wants his team to be ran, and who appears to be ready — all signs point to the change.
Pushing the Leafs to making this decision would be the best thing the Buffalo Sabres franchise has ever done.