The Maple Leafs head into the 2019/2020 season with Mitch Marner and the other RFAs signed, questions around the defense answered with the addition of Tyson Barrie (still can’t believe I am even saying that), third and fourth lines have also seen significant upgrade.
However there are two lingering questions that continue to bother a lot in Leafs Nation, and from taking a simple pulse of things on social media they are the perceived lack of team toughness and lingering concerns about Coach Mike Babcock.
When speaking about the grit/toughness on this team there is this thought that the team lost again to Boston because the Maple Leafs weren’t tough enough or didn’t make things hard enough on Boston throughout the series.
Yet, the final hit totals show that the Maple Leafs actually out hit Boston throughout the entire series. So what speaks to the contrast of the final hit totals and how many perceive the series to have gone? Some only see size, and that becomes the leading factor in this often skewed view of the roster, but that doesn’t really tell the full picture. The Maple Leafs have Jake Muzzin, Trevor Moore, Cody Ceci and Zach Hyman, who can and will toss their bodies when required. There are still the likes of Ben Harpur, Mason Marchment, and Pierre Engvall if more size is needed throughout the season.
That said, I am less worried about the physicality on this roster this upcoming season and more inclined to look at the coach as a possible area of concern. For all the qualities that make Mike Babcock such a great coach, they also provide him a blind spot, if a particular game-plan isn’t working, he has shown a stubbornness to change on the fly. This refusal to change on the fly has come at the detriment of the team and its success not only in the regular season, but more importantly in the playoffs.
Internally I would suspect that a possible coaching change has been discussed and Sheldon Keefe is my guess to be the coach in waiting. If the team has a similar swoon like last season, Babcock will be replaced as management realizes that time can fly and opportunities can be missed if the team doesn’t progress further.
So if there is anything to be watching out for this season is how Babcock manages his bench, his relationship with his two new assistant coaches and what happens if the team hits a rough patch. As I can’t expect the GM will take too kindly to a passive aggressive coach taking swipes in the media at him or the roster he has been tasked to coach for another season.
Every season the Maple Leafs give us something to talk about, and the 2019/2020 will be no different. So all eyes will be on the coach and how he handles all the new players and the new world around him, as even he can’t escape the pressure of knowing his replacement is just down the road.
We will find out the answer to this question soon, as the Maple Leafs open up the season next Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators.