Maple Leafs Fire Head Coach Mike Babcock
The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired head coach Mike Babcock. They’ve promoted Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe as Babcock’s replacement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I doubt anyone’s surprised by this news. The Leafs were 9-10-4 this season. As more than one observer noted, they’ve hovered around .500 since January. That’s not what was expected when the Leafs entered this season as a projected Stanley Cup contender.
The Leafs hired Babcock in 2015, making him the highest-paid coach in the league. His contract runs through 2022-23, paying him $6.25 million annually. The deep-pocketed Leafs ownership can afford it, but that’s still a lot of money invested in a now unemployed coach.
Within two seasons, Babcock guided the Leafs to their first playoff appearance in four years and only their second since 2004. Under his tutelage, the Leafs enjoyed back-to-back seasons with 100-or-more points. However, they failed to advance past the opening round of the playoffs.
The Leafs seemed lackluster midway through 2018-19. That may have been an early warning sign that Babcock was losing the room. The malaise carried over into this season. For a team built around young scoring stars like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Babcock’s emphasis on two-way play appeared to stifle their offensive creativity.
Kyle Dubas inherited Babcock as coach when he took over as Leafs GM in 2018. There were rumors the two didn’t see eye-to-eye on personnel decisions. It was long assumed Dubas would eventually promote Keefe into the head-coaching position.
It’ll be interesting to see what changes Keefe makes to get the Leafs back on a winning track. With Babcock gone, the focus now shifts to the players. If Keefe can’t get a better effort out of them, the next moves by Dubas could involve shaking up the roster, either during this season or next summer.