The End of the Road?

It seems like the end is nigh for Mike Babcock and the Leafs, and we are past the point of no return on his time as the Leafs coach. Whether you agree with that being the right decision or not, the fact that the fans, the team, the league, the media, etc. are collectively holding their breath for the inevitable announcement likely means that a couple of wins won’t really change a whole lot, and frankly at best close off the concerns about the immediate losing streak, not the overall underwhelming start to the season, and certainly not the past playoff failures.

The Leafs have checked a couple of critical boxes on whether or not we would see Babcock departing.

  • There’s been the closed door, players only meeting that has never been a good sign when it comes to a coach’s employment status. And while players will assert that these meetings do happen with frequency throughout the year, they certainly have a way of popping up with losing streaks and concerns over coaches.
  • There’s been a handful of articles, insider radio hits discussing the potential that Mike Babcock has lost the room and players don’t want to play for him any more. There’s certainly a lot of subjectivity to this, but Babcock’s annual trips to Arizona to clear the air with Auston Matthews in the offseason, the very public vilification of him by past player Mike Commodore, the trade requests of Frank Corrado and Josh Leivo, and a handful of secondhand stories that have even trickled their way down to my ears, lead me to believe that players generally don’t like this guy and if they don’t think he’s making them better, they aren’t going to play to keep him. The body language in the picture below is interesting to say the least.

One of the final check marks on whether or not the coach is on the way out is the false vote of confidence of the GM, and credit goes to Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star for actively seeking out whether Dubas was willing to provide that…

My question was direct: Was he willing to give Babs a vote of confidence? (This, by the way, was before the game against Vegas.)

His answer: “My view on the matter remains the same as last week after the game against the Islanders. For our team to reach its best, we must all collectively attack times when we are not playing to our standard. That starts with management, but includes coaches and the players as well. We must be honest with each other, be aligned in where we are falling short, and work collectively to use times of suboptimal results to build our resolve and come out on the other side stronger, better and close to reaching our ultimate potential.”

More damning than the vote of confidence is probably the avoidance of giving one when the opportunity arises.

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I encourage everyone to click on that like to McGran’s full article as there is a lot of context and analysis that is important to that quote, but while Dubas is comfortable putting the blame on himself and the players, he very purposefully include the coaching staff in that quote, and since the question is directly about Babcock’s job security, the second half about being honest with each other about where they are falling short is intriguing, even if it is trying to suggest working collectively to fix it.

That certainly doesn’t establish any timelines for when shit is going to hit the fan, but doesn’t deny that shit is coming.

The Leafs decision to add Mitch Marner to the road trip for the last couple of games is interesting. He’s drawing some comparisons to an emotional support dog to help keep the Leafs players in good spirits, but my argument is that there’s something to be said for having the Leafs leadership group together in the locker room when a devastating announcement is about to be made.

The long and short of it, is that a lack of vote of confidence is pretty damning in the season that the Leafs don’t have the luxury of indecisiveness. They are in a position where they would need to pick up 76 points in their remaining 59 games, equating to a 64% winning percentage, a pace that would essentially would be their best season in franchise history since 1951. If there is any hope of clawing their way in, they have to act quickly. If they are going to stick with Babcock and things don’t improve, well, we’re going to get to his dismissal at the end of season anyway because I can’t imagine that missing the playoffs is going to be accepted.

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I can’t imagine that the ride it out with Babcock option is reasonable, and even if there is a defeatist attitude towards a playoff run, I’m not sure I see the benefit of not bringing in the next guy (let’s be honest, it’s Sheldon Keefe) to work with the core of the team that will be in Toronto next season to move forward.

I feel like a broken record calling for Babcock’s head after every Leafs game, but it largely comes down to Mike Babcock betting on Mike Babcock. The reshuffled defense pairing at the start of the game yesterday reverted to Muzzin-Barrie and Dermott-Holl by the second half of the game. In the final minutes of a then 3-2 game, Frederik Gauthier was still getting shifts instead of the Leafs attempted to aggressively pursue a third goal. Mike Babcock is going to be Mike Babcock, and while Mike Babcock did a world of good for rebuilding Leafs a few years ago, he’s not the coach that will help the Leafs dig themselves out of this hole and take the next step. He’s at the end of his road.