Here we are just over a month into the 2019-2020 season and the Maple Leafs haven’t played like the world beaters we all had anticipated they would be. As repeated issues continue to pop-up, one then starts to look at coaching as a possible reason. Here is part one of my case for the need of a coaching change by end of calendar year, if the results don’t turn around.
I want to make it abundantly clear we have defended and supported Mike Babcock from the day he started. We have even written a couple of blogs in support of the work he had been doing at that time.
However here are some of the more glaring issues that have impacted the season so far:
Let’s start with the coach’s use of ice time as reward for playing a great game or in Babcock’s words the “right way”.
Under a proper meritocracy players who are producing, should get more ice time and players who aren’t having the best game shouldn’t be. That seems like an easy to understand principal and it drives internal competition and work ethic. That I can fully stand behind, no matter what.
However, that simply isn’t the case, we have seen everyone’s whipping boy William Nylander, Jason Spezza and even at times Auston Matthews take a backseat to the third and fourth lines when a goal is needed with a game on the line.
In the case of the first two players, great games aren’t followed up with additional ice time, only when they have a bad game or even a bad shift do we see any movement but that means they are stapled to the bench or press box as in the case Jason Spezza.
This process bares no similarities to what an actual meritocracy is supposed to look like. I can’t imagine from a motivational standpoint that working across the board either. Keeping players accountable can only happen when punishments and rewards are handed out based on merit of each.
This unevenness opens the door to a divide in the room, and players worrying about entering Babcock’s doghouse to never make their way out. Then as time goes on player apathy kicks in and they stop listening/playing for the coach. We may be seeing a little of that from certain players already.
This leads to the second part of ice-time that is how Babcock deploys his roster in game. Consistency is great if we are talking about bowel movements, however we are talking about in game adjustments needed to win hockey games. Babcock simply won’t unless an injury takes a player out, and he is forced into making a line-up shuffle.
I also don’t understand resting players this early in the season, especially highly skilled players that can turn the game on a dime in your favour. I am of the belief that you earn all the points you can early and often in the earlier part of the regular season then rest your players closer to playoffs after you have secured your playoff spot and players are already banged up.
With an even more competitive Atlantic division, any and all wasted points can come to bite the Maple Leafs in the butt come spring when they could possibly miss out on home ice advantage. Why rest your players now, when it could mean having to do one huge push closer to April when the likes of Boston and so on are resting their players to ramp up for the playoffs.
I can appreciate that there are certain things the coach can’t control but there are so many aspects of the game Babcock can and should control. Finding more ice time when required for your star players seems like an easy thing to control when games are still up for grabs. It isn’t out of the box thinking, and every other team does it, just in Toronto have we been told it can’t be possible.
In part two, we will look at how Babcock’s game plans and player deployment in different scenarios are also impacting the results we have seen to start the year.
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