It appears nearly foolish to counsel that we’re lastly going to see what sort of coach Mike Babcock actually is that this season.
In spite of everything, this is similar man who received a Stanley Cup in Detroit, who received two gold medals on the Olympics and a World Cup championship with Crew Canada, and who took a Maple Leafs group that was too younger and too inexperienced to back-to-back playoff appearances.
On the identical time, it’s been 5 years since he received a playoff spherical and nearly a decade since he reached the convention ultimate.
One other first-round exit isn’t going to chop it anymore. Not with John Tavares on the group. Not with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander getting into Yr three. Not with everybody selecting Toronto to go all the best way.
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No, Babcock has to at the least do what Paul Maurice did final 12 months in Winnipeg — and doubtlessly extra.
He won’t need to win a Stanley Cup this season, however he for certain has to get the Leafs out of the primary spherical. Something much less shall be deemed a disappointment worthy of shedding his job.
Strain? Yeah, but it surely’s good strain. It definitely is healthier than the sensation when Babcock first arrived.
“Effectively, c’mon, we have been the worst group in hockey,” Babcock, talking on the primary day of coaching camp on Thursday, stated of that first 12 months in Toronto, when the group received 29 video games in 2015-167. “We have been additionally going within the mistaken course for one 12 months, when you concentrate on it, in order that we might go in the appropriate course. So now we’re on the map with different good groups … it’s not about one 12 months. It’s a couple of run.”
In Babcock’s first 12 months in Toronto, the group completed with the worst general file. The Leafs exceeded expectations the next season, sneaking into the playoffs as the ultimate wild card group. Final 12 months, they’d the third-best file within the convention however misplaced to the Bruins in Sport 7 of the opening spherical of the playoffs.
And now this: For the primary time in nearly a decade, Babcock has a group that’s getting into the season as prohibitive favourites.
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“I really feel prefer it’s my first 12 months right here,” he stated, grinning ear to ear. “Earlier than, I used to be simply attempting to get the group to a sure stage. That is form of like being with the Purple Wings over again. So now we’ve bought alternative. My first 12 months with the Purple Wings, we received 58 video games and misplaced within the first 12 months within the playoffs. These have been battle scars you undergo. That’s a part of life.
That is what Babcock signed up for. That is what the Maple Leafs paid him $50 millon over eight years to do. He didn’t come right here to easily elevate the youngsters and start the rebuild. He got here right here to win championships. Plural.
That begins this 12 months. And subsequent 12 months. And for nevertheless lengthy Babcock is right here.
“My first 12 months right here, the solar got here up within the morning however you needed to crank your self as much as get within the rink,” stated Babcock. “It’s far more enjoyable now. It’s far more enjoyable that we now have an opportunity.”
It’s enjoyable, but it surely’s not with out its challenges.
Like we stated, this is likely to be essentially the most gifted group Babcock has ever coached. However it could possibly be his most tough.
Babcock has to juggle egos and ice time like he’s by no means finished earlier than. He has two No. 1 centres in Tavares and Matthews, however no captain to relay his message to the remainder of the group.
Who will get extra minutes? Who performs on the primary power-play unit? Who’s on the ice to start out the sport or when the opposite group has the goalie pulled?
There are new points to take care of. Babcock was already lacking one in every of his top-line wingers in Nylander, who was absent from Day 1 of coaching camp as a result of he has but to re-sign an extension. In the meantime, Matthews and Marner are within the ultimate 12 months of their entry-level contracts and shall be motivated to have productive years.
“Everybody appears on the sheet. I take a look at the rating,” Babcock stated of holding everybody comfortable with regards to ice time. “The underside line is we’re processed based mostly. You play good, you play extra. There’s lot of ice time to go round. On good groups, you won’t get as a lot ice time — you simply get extra wins. Ultimately, I believe that’s what it’s all about.”
And if the Leafs aren’t in a position to get extra wins, or in the event that they aren’t in a position to get previous Boston or whomever they could face within the first spherical of the playoffs, fingers will level Babcock’s manner. In spite of everything, successful a championship is lastly what this group is all about.
LAMORIELLO LEFT BEHIND SOLID STRUCTURE FOR MAPLE LEAFS
Kyle Dubas doesn’t share his identical view on the significance of a clean-shaven face as his predecessor did. However in keeping with head coach Mike Babcock, there may be loads of Lou Lamoriello in the best way that Dubas manages.
“We’ve labored collectively now three years,” Babcock stated of Dubas. “Lou did a helluva job right here, however he’s now with the Islanders. And I believe it’s actually essential that everybody who’s a supervisor manages in their very own manner. That’s the key behind success.”
As for Lamoriello, who set the desk in Toronto earlier than accepting a job because the GM of the New York Islanders, Babcock had solely good issues to say about state that he tradition that he imparted with the Maple Leafs.
“The picture of Lou and who he actually is, is so out of whack it’s not even humorous,” stated Babcock. “However he simply ran some construction and we’re going to have construction in the identical manner. So I don’t assume they’re actually completely different that manner. Kyle’s a wise man and he’s had plenty of success. We’re jut going to proceed that.”