The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the league’s top teams. Most of the hockey world seems to respect their speed and skill, and Leafs fans worldwide love it. The talent that fans see on the ice night-in, night-out has a helping hand in head coach Mike Babcock. “Babs”, as they call him, aims to push his players down the right path. The redheaded coach is a good mentor to his players. He expects a lot out of them and let’s just say that can get on some veterans’ nerves. That being said, it is all done with good intentions.
Babcock wants to win and win he has. The coach knows how to win, he won a Cup with the Detroit Red Wings back in 2008 and he has had many other accomplishments throughout his coaching career. That is not to say the Manitouwadge, Ont. native does not have his flaws.
Maple Leafs Fans Love Mike Babcock, But Also Resent Him
The Toronto sports media is relentless in their coverage of the Leafs and sometimes it can show. Story after story about the Leafs. Should the Leafs trade for…? The Leafs NEED to do this! How much is Mitch Marner worth to the Maple Leafs? The parade of content only seemed to get larger as the National Hockey League approaches its quintessential trade deadline.
As of late, Leafs Nation and the media has found something to call Babcock out on – the under-usage of Travis Dermott and the over-usage of Ron Hainsey. This is an issue that is talked about much on social media and hockey forums and for good reason
Hainsey is a bit old and a wee bit slower than other defensemen on the team In reality, he would serve best as a sixth defenseman or pairing with Jake Gardiner. Obviously, Babcock has another opinion on Hainsey as this has not changed over the season. He loves to stick him on the first pairing even with Jake Muzzin in the lineup.
As one can imagine, Babcock loves his veterans. He trusts them in situations other fans and coaches may not and that is just a part of his aura.
There is no denying that Babcock is a little bit stubborn
In the past, Babcock loved to give minutes to players like Roman Polak, something that did not chime well with the armchair coaches. The media even had a thing or two to say about it. The criticism never seemed to bother him because night after night he kept his lines the same. He tried to “spice things up” from time to time, but he mostly ended up staying what made him feel comfortable.
This is not unheard of. Babcock did this in Detroit and through his career. It may be fair to say that he has trust issues or that he simply does not want to push his younger players too much, hence Dermott. If that is the case, it is pretty frustrating, but at the same time, most coaches do this from time-to-time. Babcock does this too much though. It is noticeable, but then again, Pat Quinn did not play Brad Boyes and that led him to get traded to the Sharks for Owen Nolan. Technically speaking, Babcock is not the first Leafs coach to do this and will not be the last.
Nevertheless, it is one of Babcock’s major pitfalls and it will continue for as long as he continues to coach. There is no changing that.
Babcock is not privy to changing his lines
Many fans have wanted to see Babcock and the Leafs try Justin Holl in the lineup. A lot of fans wanted to see Babcock give an opportunity to Josh Levio before he was moved to Vancouver. Unfortunately, when they got their chances they did not entirely impress. As I mentioned last year, Justin Holl will probably never be a full-time defenseman in Toronto, at least with the current make up of the Maple Leafs. That being said, come next year, the makeup of the Leafs defensive core will force Babcock’s hand.
In most situations, fans would at least like to see these players get an extended chance. Hold that thought though, the moment one of these said players misses the marks, the same people that want a player like Holl in the lineup will be calling for him to come out. That is the nature of the beast when playing in Toronto.
Yes, Babcock has to give these younger players a chance, but he does have to win and sometimes moves like putting Holl in the lineup might challenge that.
That is not to say Babcock does not trust every ‘could-be’
During Trevor Moore‘s stint with the Leafs, Babcock has given him some favour, giving him some time on the special teams units. He seems to like his fourth line and he has given Frederik Gauthier a chance to get his feet under him. Babcock also gave Andreas Johnsson a chance to get some minutes when he first came up from the American Hockey League last season. That may be because he feels that their skill and speed serves them well at the NHL level. It may also be that he trusts them more. Is unfair to players like Holl and Josh Levio? Yes and no, but whoever said that life was fair? At the end of the day, the coach plays who he deems to be the best player(s) for the situation. After all, he is not making $8 million a season for nothing.
In the end
Yes, people may not agree with Babcock’s line up decisions all the time. His matchup games can get frustrating and him over-using players like Hainsey can be god-awful annoying. That being said, the Toronto Maple Leafs could be a lot worse off without Babcock’s coaching. He, along with his staff, has and still is doing a great job at developing the Leafs talented young core of players including Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Johnsson, and Morgan Rielly. It is unfortunate that he takes a while to trust young defensemen like Dermott, but that is just who he is. And it is not to say that Babcock might have a good reason to ease someone like Dermott’s progression in the lineup.
Sometimes fans have to take the good with the bad in order to win. And it is not like there is too much bad to go around in this situation.