“You don’t get another chance, life is no Nintendo game.” — Eminem — Mike Babcock
Mike Babcock’s tenure as the coach of the Maple Leafs is finished. Cooked, done, over. He’s forever etched into the first three-and-a-bit seasons of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. But he’s all done in his opportunity to make an impact, and he finishes his Toronto stint on a sour note, with six straight losses.
Whatever he chooses to do now, is, well, his choice. I could see him taking on a lower impact job, such as returning to the university circuit or a role with a junior team. I could see him staying far away from the hockey world, and going to live in the woods for a while. And while it’s fun to think about post-Toronto Mike Babcock, the truth is, he’s never been fired before from the NHL, and it shouldn’t have been this way.
Sure, you can feel he deserved to be fired, that he’d lost the room, that his style was growing stale. You can feel he didn’t perform well enough for someone on the richest coaching contract in the league.
But the truth of the matter is, the Toronto Maple Leafs are bigger than Mike Babcock. The Leafs, as an organization, are still out of a playoff spot, still on a six-game losing streak, and still in search of what their proper backup goalie will be for the rest of the year. While they might get a “reset button”, they don’t get to re-play the games they’ve already lost.
So what exactly is the celebration here about? That we’re giving a rookie head coach a chance with a roster that should be competing for a Stanley Cup? That the defensive pairs are going to be a little different by next week? That maybe the power play will improve? Whether or not you think Sheldon Keefe is the man for the job (I do, I think he’s worth giving a shot) is mostly irrelevant. He could be the best coach in the world, and be the mystery ingredient the Leafs are missing.
But that doesn’t change the history of this Leafs team.
What’s happened here is a coach who came in with a whirlwind of hype and success was unable to get the job done. And it’s more a tragedy than anything else.
It’s different than the last major coach the Leafs fired. Randy Carlyle’s system forced the Leafs to be arguably the worst team in the league. Mike Babcock’s just made you feel like they were holding something back. And despite how the team’s record looked this year, it’s hard to pin it all on Babs when the team’s backup goaltenders lost literally every time they were on the ice.
I mean, do you remember that feeling when Babcock signed? Just plastering “welcome to Toronto, Mike” around on the outside of the arena? Remember #Planegate, where some blogger (hi Jeffler) tracked down MLSE’s plane picking up Babcock? Remember buying Babsocks for all your family and friends? Remember fighting with Sabres fans on Twitter?
All of that ended in, well, whatever this is.
And Babcock leaves a mixed legacy on Toronto.
The first season of Babcock’s tenure? A wash. A tanking season that really had little impact on his legacy in Toronto. Everyone knew the Leafs would be bad, and they were bad.
But his next? He got the most out of a roster in 2016-17 that probably had no business making the playoffs. His first real disappointment came the following season with a Game 7 loss to Boston, and we all know that it was a repeat of that this past spring. And then there’s a sputtering start to this year… and that’s it.
At the end of the day, it’s not what any of us wanted when Babcock signed that eight-year deal back in 2015. All in all, his time in Toronto was a let down, a relative failure, and one you’ll wonder if the Leafs should’ve avoided him in the first place.
But celebrating that a bad hockey team might improve to be, well, what we expected from this roster at the start of the year? Just seems a little weak to me.