When looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs for each of the last few seasons (Last place finish aside), one issue has been coming up a lot with this team… its consistency.
This team has struggled with being consistent throughout the last few seasons, despite the record. At the time of this writing, the Leafs sit 3rd in the Atlantic Division with 91 points (currently sitting just 4 points back of Boston, relax Leafs Nation) and overall sit 5th in the NHL.
So what does that have to do with the teams struggles? Well its many factors. There are many people who help run this franchise everyday to make it successful, past and present.
For this particular piece, I’m going to focus on mainly 3. I’ll be looking at head coach Mike Babcock, former Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoirello, and current GM Kyle Dubas.
When looking at Babcock, it’s no shock he’s looked at as one of the best head coaches in the NHL today and even in NHL history. He’s coached teams that have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold and even a World Cup of Hockey championship.
Babcock has done it all except for one thing. A Stanley Cup in Toronto.
When, Babcock was initially signed to his enormous contract with the Maple Leafs back in May of 2015, the team expected a long grueling process of building for the future. Thankfully for them, the future came early with emerging superstars like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and more.
However with this fantastic young core of talent there is always expectations. In year 2 of Babcock’s tenure, the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 (2013 aside). The expectations were low given the teams shocking rise in the standings. Last season, the expectations rose higher given the team finished with their best point total in franchise history with 105.
Another 1st round exit to the Boston Bruins hurt the teams morale and set the narrative of “Is this team good enough?”. Well, of course they are with players like John Tavares now added to the fold. However, with the team arguably looking rather poor over the course of their last few games (Team has allowed now 27 goals in their last 4 games, yikes), fans are wondering whether or not Babcock is capable of delivering a Cup win to the city of Toronto.
While Babcock has tried his hardest with what he’s given, he has a stubborn way about him. For example, in their 5-4 loss to Chicago, he chose to put 37-year-old Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev out on the ice to attempt to tie the game. Hainsey has been overused and will be a defensive liability if he plays 20+ minutes a night.
I feel that Babcock needs to try to use other players down the stretch. Challenge the Igor Ozhiganov and Justin Holl, even if they aren’t players you trust, maybe take the next 10 games or so to see what you have, especially given injuries to players like Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott.
Now is Mike in the hot seat? Obviously not. Although with Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe drawing interest and Dubas not wanting to let him go, say things go south by the wayside in the next year or so, could we see Sheldon Keefe get an upgrade Who knows.
Ah, Old man Lou. Theres no denying this man has a stellar resume. From 1987 to the present day, his name is now become a piece of hockey lore.
He was a part of one of the most stacked teams in the 90s in the New Jersey Devils. Lamoriello was able to build a roster that consisted of Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and others. He won three Stanley Cups as GM of the Devils and responsible for numerous hall of fame caliber talent coming in and out of the organization. However, everyone has their faults, and Lou (I pray that he doesn’t see this) has made his fair share of mistakes. The whole Ilya Kovalchuk saga in 2012 comes to mind, but lets stick primarily to his time in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.
Through his three seasons as Leafs GM, Lamoriello has done a lot of positives for the club. Dealing Dion Phaneuf and not retaining any salary on his deal was his finest moment as GM. He managed to get rid of a lot of salary and recoup many assets for players. Now of course outside of the Auston Matthews pick in 2016, we don’t know exactly how all of Toronto’s draft selections in 2016 will pan out. But, he did a great job of adding assets to the Leafs’ farm system.
My biggest Criticism of Lamoriello and I am sure many people will agree, is that he didn’t address the defencive core in Toronto. Ron Hainsey has not provided stability on the back-end, although this does relate back to the coaches deployment of him. Nikita Zaitsev signing a 7 year deal worth $31.5 million dollars is a mistake. To put it lightly, Zaitsev has struggled mightily in the now. Now, I am not trying to pick on Nikita Zaitsev the player or person, I just feel his play and his contract has not helped the team in the slightest.
In the offensive zone, Lamoriello’s signing of Patrick Marleau a bit surprising to me. I feel the term and cap hit was a little much for a player like that, but I digress. Marleau has been pretty solid for the most part although you’d expect more production from someone who is carrying a 6.25 million USD cap hit.
Also, Lou did not do much at both the 2017 and 2018 trade deadline to bolster the blue line. Now granted 2017 was a trial year to get to the playoffs, but he should have been a little more active at last season’s trade deadline in my opinion.
But, Lou Lamoirello is a Hockey Hall of Famer and has earned every right of it given his professional background. He had done a solid job as General Manager for the Leafs, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to end the Leafs’ cup drought.
You guys know how in the Lion King when Simba is hoisted on top of Pride Rock? Thats essentially Kyle Dubas being ascended to the Leafs GM role.
The initial “Shanaplan” was to have Lamoirello sign a 3 year deal as the general manager, with Kyle Dubas serving under him to learn the ways of the pros. Almost like Luke Skywalker learning from Obi-wan in Star Wars.
Since being named GM of the Leafs, Dubas is heavily monitored by the Toronto media even more than his predecessor was, given he does not have the professional pedigree that other general managers in the league normally possess, as well as being quite young (32) to assume the top position of arguably the biggest hockey market in the world.
But, what has Dubas done?
Well, John Tavares was a HUGE signing and win for the team back on July 1st, and therefore excels the window of contention for the team. He also managed to keep William Nylander on a rather reasonable deal over 6 years ($6.9 per season after this one) and extended their franchise centre in Auston Matthews paying him roughly over $11 million a season. In addition, he bolstered the Leafs blue line by trading for Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings.
Now I feel Dubas has done a very good job with the team, but it’s clear there are some holes left unfilled. He wasn’t able to add much at the trade deadline (except for adding Nic Petan in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets). But, the Leafs could have used more assets. It appears that he held off on adding more as he wants to careful not to overcommit since the Leafs have a few free agents (Kasperi Kapanen, Mitch Marner, Andreas Johnsson) that they need to sign.
The only constructive criticism that I have of Dubas is that he trusts his AHL players a little too much. I like Justin Holl and want him to succeed, but its apparent that he’s the new Frank Corrado of the team. Garret Sparks has struggled a lot since being named the backup of the team back in late September, once Michael Hutchinson is healthy, I think a demotion might be necessary for Sparks. Yes, I know he has been playing mostly just on the second half of a back to backs, but maybe a refresher in the minors might be good for both parties. It’s clear Dubas is highly of the former AHL goalie of the year last season, but I feel if he wants to win now that a demotion might be best.
Who Do You Blame?
So in short, each person I named above has been flawed but also provided some stability and thought for now and the future. So who’s to blame for certain issues? Coaching? Lack of General Manager moves past and present? Leafs Nation, what do you think? Let me know.
salary research – capfriendly.com
stats – hockey-reference.com and Rogers Sportsnet
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler