The entire purpose of coaching at competitive levels is to organize players on a team in order to maximize their performance. They are tasked with evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their players and trying to find the best combinations. The goal is to facilitate an effective process which leads to positive results. The decisions are based on performance and standards apply to all. This seems simple enough. That is until egos get involved.
Mike Babcock has lost this plot. He is a fraud. I am not here to say that coaches cannot make a positive impact on their teams. I am here to say that coaching success is primarily player driven. Hockey is controlled chaos and does not lend itself to specific plays and setups like other sports. Controlled chaos means the split second decisions the players are tasked with usually outweigh a coach's impact in hockey. When you have the best horses you have a better chance of winning the races. The trick is to race the right horses at the right time. Mike Babcock does not do this. His coaching success has come when he owns all the best horses. His decisions of when and how to use them are rendered less important and the margin for error is way higher. Coaching Team Canada is a prestigious job that doesn’t need a prestigious coach. It would take severe negligence to screw up those rosters. Babcock had the “Team Canada” version of NHL rosters early in the salary cap era when his Detroit teams were heads and shoulders above the others in the league.
When Mike Babcock’s rosters have not been the absolute best his success has been minimal. The lone exception was when Jean-Sebastian Giguere was the best goalie in the world while pushing the size limits of goalie equipment.
Mike Babcock has his Gold Medals from his work with Canada and he does have a single Stanley Cup from his time with Detroit. As a result it has earned him the reputation of being one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best. This reputation is only surface deep. Any time Mike Babcock has been tasked with elevating teams who are not among the best in the league he has come up way short more times than not. He rarely gets his rosters to punch above their weight. If anything we have more evidence of his teams under-performing than meeting expectations, let alone overachieving.
Babcock has now coached 14 years in the NHL and in nine of those seasons he has failed to make it past the first round. This year is the sixth consecutive year he has failed to win a playoff round. He has one playoff round victory since 2012 and none since 2014. He has a 3-7 record in Game 7's.
He is not coaching royalty.
As Adam has said in the past, Mike Babcock is Dan Bylsma with more favorable media coverage. Although, Bylsma did beat Babcock in a Stanley Cup Final with a lesser team.
Babcock has all the red flags of a dated coach in over his head in modern times. He is guilty of being loyal to veterans despite their on-ice performance not being worthy of that loyalty. He is drawn to value in players who do not have the ability to move the needle offensively or push the play forward. He is still a believer in size and grit. He does not understand how to shorten a bench with his team desperate for goals. His reluctance to shorten his bench is probably tied to his ego. It is a message to his better players that he holds the power. How else do you explain Auston Matthews only getting 18 minutes in a Game 7 when his team was trailing the entire game?! How many other coaches play Matthews as little as Babcock did in that situation? Are there any?
He continued to roll four lines and never loaded up. Instead of playing Morgan Reilly, Jake Gardiner, Jake Muzzin, and Travis Dermott into the ground he kept force feeding Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev who are offensively inept. Bailing on the top power play unit after one minute. Babcock was shown to be an incompetent bench boss in a high leverage situation. The exact situation you pay a guy 50M to navigate like a true professional.
Some of Mike Babcock’s best hits in Toronto the past few years
The need to remind players he is the boss ie: Not playing his best players in most important situations.
Gluing Ron Hainsey to the top pairing with Morgan Reilly
Playing Patrick Marleau like it is 2005-06 in 2018-19
Having a sizable role in signing Marleau to the contract he was given which will cripple the team’s flexibility to navigate the salary cap this summer.
Playing Andreas Johnsson in a fourth line role for most of the season
Not having Auston Matthews on the top power play (2017-18)
His hand in the Zaitsev extension
He publicly whined about his roster depth when he had a larger role than most any other NHL coach in constructing the exact roster he was complaining about.
Leo Komarov top line winger
I’m sure I’m missing some, but this list is a lot longer than it should be for the supposed best coach in the league. Lest we forget the mess he left behind in Detroit which he surely had a large hand in creating and then abandoning.
Kyle Dubas is in a precarious position. He inherited an egomaniac who is treated like royalty. Dubas has a bench boss who does not share the same vision for roster construction as he does. Firing Mike Babcock is the right decision for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the decision to do so will not be met kindly. Kyle Dubas will be known as the super young general manager who “thought he was better than Mike Babock”. In reality the firing would be a result of the coach not being the right fit for the roster Dubas is trying to build. Dubas will have to prepare for the might of 200 hockey men and then some. Being in the Toronto market he will have to endure a constant onslaught of criticism and pot shots. There will be spread sheet jokes and insults about analytics. They will be made by people who usually only focus on results, except in Babcock’s case. It is going to be a complete gong show when it happens.
It should happen. It needs to happen. The time to do it is now.
Anything later is just delaying the inevitable. This isn’t going to get better. Dubas isn’t going to want to appease Babcock and supply him with the types of players he desires. Also, Babcock isn’t going to deploy the players in a way Dubas needs for the roster construction to work like it should. Babcock has already gone to the media whining about the roster publicly. He is not above using the media and his reputation to take shots at his boss. This is about him and nobody else.
It’s time for the hockey world to come to the realization that this emperor has no clothes. Babcock is not capable of getting the most out of his rosters. He is not capable of putting his ego aside. He has built his reputation on the backs of elite players who need minimal coaching. This whole charade has been accepted as absolute truth. The real truth has been in plain sight the entire time. Mike Babcock is a fraud.
Thanks for reading!