Toronto Maple Leafs and Mike Babcock Need To Look At Their Recent Play

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 21: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets called for gloving the puck in the crease thus drawing a penalty shot in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on October 21, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blue Jackets defeated the Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are off and pacing in the 2019-20 regular season. Although to say they’ve started out evenly and set a “good pace” might be a tad misleading. The Leafs are off to a 5-4-2 start through 11 games. For most teams that start to the season isn’t all that bad, but to a team like the Leafs whose main intentions are going deep into the playoffs and contending for a Stanley Cup, this is concerning. The backup goalie situation is less than ideal with the number two man Michael Hutchinson failing to prove himself reliable to the team. The team starts most of their games flat-footed and unmotivated. What’s even more concerning is that head coach Mike Babcock can’t get this team to weather the storm. At least that’s what it seems at the moment and some concerning statistics support these claims. For example, the Maple Leafs are playing below .500 since January 2019. This goes without saying, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to take a long look at their overall game if they want to content this season.

Leafs And Mike Babcock Need To Take A Long Look At Their Overall Game

Yes, the season is young and October blunders can be that, October blunders. Who wants to take that chance though? Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas certainly doesn’t.

Dubas took some criticism this offseason before and after giving the hometown boy Mitch Marner a lucrative contract. Experts and hockey fans alike have also criticized Dubas’ team-building philosophy which evolves around filling his team with young skilled players that have tons of offensive talent.

Should this philosophy fail, Dubas’ popularity in Leafs Nation could take a hit. That might not happen as quickly for Dubas as it could for Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. If there was a metaphorical hot seat in Toronto, Babcock would be sitting on it.

A quick search of Leafs Twitter and one will see that some Maple Leaf fans want Babcock gone after their most recent game against the Boston Bruins where the Leafs lost 4-2. People blame Babcock for not having the team ready to go yet again.

Although Babcock deserves much of the blame, the Maple Leafs problems go further than the head coach.

Leafs Gotta Be Ready To Go

The Maple Leafs have allowed the first foal in eight of the 11 games they have played thus far this season. Most games, the team plays unmotivated. It’s almost as if someone told them they’re going to lose before the game has even started.

In some situations, the Leafs find a way to respond and get themselves back in the game. In others, it’s just a crippling problem.

Chasing the game is never an ideal scenario for any National Hockey League team. For a team like Toronto who’s offensively gifted with players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Tyson Barrie amongst others, this fate might not be as daunting.

Considering that the Maple Leafs defence isn’t the best in their own end, the team can’t afford to chase the game no matter how good they think are offensively.

This is an issue that could be fixed once and if the team gets a good licking from Mike Babcock or an inspirational speech from Tony Robbins. However it happens, this flat-footed play NEEDS to be addressed.

Ease up on the penalties

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the seventh most penalized team in the league. The Leafs have taken 34 penalties in their first 11 games.

The good thing is that their penalty kill has only allowed seven goals throughout that span and has been, for the most part, reliable. And it doesn’t hurt when they score a shorthanded goal. That said, statistically speaking, shorthanded goals are a rarity and therefore are unreliable in the grand scheme of things. Too long; didn’t read, Leafs can’t rely on offence when killing a penalty.

Furthermore, some of the penalties that the Leafs have taken could be referred to as “phantom calls” by fans. Others are outright silly mistakes made by players caught up in the heat of the moment.

The Maple Leafs NEED to figure out a way to kick their sticks on the ice and out of other players’ skates. Not every chirp is worth a push or a shove. And there’s no need to throw a check on a player when the puck is in the other zone.

This might seem like common knowledge to most fans but to Toronto, the stats may say otherwise. Coach Babcock and the players HAVE to find a way to work this out.

Mike Babcock has to get the Leafs to play to their strengths

The Maple Leafs are an extremely skilled team that has the potential to score the most goals in the league if they can get their feet moving.

The Leafs aren’t a good two-way team. They have what it takes to win games defensively, but the Maple Leafs don’t have a defence that is good enough to defend against odd-man rushes.

Defencemen like Tyson Barrie often join the rushes that are started by their forwards. Some of these aggressive advancements are unwise when looking at the footage, especially when the opposing team is in the midst of finishing a penalty kill. Giving an opponent such a chance to create a scoring opportunity off an odd-man rush after killing a lethal Maple Leafs powerplay seems like a good way to give up a goal.

In fact, if the Maple Leafs were smart, they’d work on tightening the ice. Stud players like the Bruins Brad Marchand don’t need to have so much space to work when starting a zone entry. Close up the gaps, and force the Marchands of the world to make a play.

The Maple Leafs NEED to tone down their aggressiveness and play more conservatively. When the opportunity is there take it, but the Leafs need to stop forcing the issue and close up the gaps they have open on the ice.

Stop playing politics

Let’s be real for a second, Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock don’t see eye-to-eye here. Dubas signs a player that Babcock doesn’t like and in spite, he doesn’t play that player for the first game against the season against his old team. In a way, this is childish. It also shows that Babcock doesn’t take Dubas as seriously as he should and some could say vice versa.

Everyone loves a good political drama when it’s on Netflix or Hulu, but not when House of Cards is unfolding on a professional hockey team.

If the Leafs want a decent shot at succeeding, these two need to get on the same page. If they can’t, odds are Babcock could be fired.

In other words, Babcock needs to get his ducks in a row and his head out of his arse. At the end of the day, Dubas is his boss and Babcock for better or worse has to respect that. Both parties want to win, so they best ought to figure it out.

Put it all together

The bad thing is the Leafs have a lot of problems. The good thing is that these problems, with a little bit of hard work and determination, are fixable. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a good team on paper and have what it takes to fix things without rocking the boat. That’s if everyone top to bottom in the Maple Leafs organization buys in. If not, nothing will change. Well, maybe Mike Babcock’s job title.

What separates the good teams from the great teams is their perseverance. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Like Sylvester Stallone said when he was playing the character of Rocky Balboa, “Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give… it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.

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Christian Holmes is a senior writer for Grandstand Central, as well as an editor for Last Word On Hockey. Holmesy, as he is known by his peers, works to facilitate intimate one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting personalities in sports. Not to mention, Holmes does also have a keen eye for writing powerful and thought-provoking stories as proven by his story about his lifelong love affair with hockey being published in TSN Hockey Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s and sports writer Jim Lang’s new book entitled "Everyday Hockey Heroes: Inspirational Stories On and Off The Ice". If you’re looking for a good laugh or even to learn a thing or two about life, you can follow him on Twitter below.

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