Turning over a new (Maple ) Leaf
But will a new bench boss make a difference?
Author: Bram Lerat – Contributor
So the Toronto Maple Leafs added new head coach Mike Babcock. Now what? The hype and build up of this signing has only continued into the question, what does the future hold for “Canada’s Team?” As per usual, there will be Leaf fans who claim that the team will be playoff ready in a couple of years. This isn’t something that is completely out of the picture, however, as a realistic Leaf fan, when Babcock himself says there will be “pain, fun and a journey,” I feel like I need to be ready for that first one more than anything. The question on most people’s minds is whether they can see real improvement or progress within the next year. What does Babcock immediately bring to the table?
Mike Babcock isn’t simply a coach who has been around the block. The man is the only coach in the Triple Gold Club (Olympic Gold, World Championship, Stanley Cup) and hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2004. In simple terms, if you needed a fantasy coach, Mike Babcock would go number one every year. With the promise of pain that is sure to come within the organization, it’s comforting to all Leafs fans that we quite literally couldn’t have a better man behind the bench. His credibility and accomplishments give the whole organization a newfound hope that finally does not have executives and players clenching and thinking, “I hope this works.” Some of Toronto’s worst characteristics relate to puck possession, shooting, and defense, all of which this triple gold coach has excelled with in the past. While the Leafs may be in a full rebuild mode next year, you can expect to see all new systems centered on discipline, puck possession, and better defensive efforts.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer looked at by the players as a team that kills careers. Whether it’s the Maple Leaf curse of underperforming or the media, there is always a reason to stay away from Toronto. What the hiring of Mike Babcock will do is attract free agents and rejuvenate the current ones. Within the last year, the Leafs have signed the likes of Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli and Stephane Robidas, all of whom could not have been first options for the Leafs. While these players filled some type of role in the organization, these signings are hardly considered an improvement. When speaking to TSN 1050 Radio, former Leaf Cody Franson already seems ready to want to jump back on board after being dealt to Nashville at the trade deadline: “I’m hopeful that Toronto’s in the mix come Jul. 1 and my phone will definitely be on and hoping that they’re one of the teams that calls.” While Franson isn’t exactly the specific need in Toronto, there will be more players like him that fit the vision of Brendan Shanahan, Mark Hunter and Mike Babcock. Just like Edmonton and Connor McDavid, other players will want to rally around Babcock to be part of the hopeful Maple Leaf revolution.
Bringing people into Toronto, of course, isn’t the answer to all of their problems. Believe it or not, Toronto has depth within the organization that I’m sure Babcock can’t wait to develop. With the likes of William Nylander, Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier and the soon to be fourth overall draft pick waiting patiently with the Marlies next year, Babcock has some talent to work with. Detroit’s top eight forwards have all been original draft picks that have been developed by Babcock himself and that type of coaching and development is something that Toronto is in dire need of. While the Leafs can’t expect these players to instantly get better, there is reassurance that they are in good hands and will get the some of the best development in the league when they do reach the NHL. Will some of their top prospects make the turn and play in the NHL for the 2015-2016 season? It’s likely they won’t. What you will see next year is a different Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel (if they are still on the team), and other veterans that play the way Babcock wants them to play. Not the way they want themselves to play.
Let’s be realistic, it isn’t going to be a smooth ride in the next couple of years. For all we know, Toronto might gut the whole team and leave us with nothing besides a couple of goalies, Morgan Rielly, and James van Riemsdyk, who seem untouchable. What we can count on is a brand new environment in Toronto that is shaped through Mike Babcock’s winning vision. From one fan to another, let’s hope this actually works.