The Hot Seat: Why Babcocks Fate is Probably Inevitable

The Panic Button

The Captain Always Goes Down With The Ship

CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 24: Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock talks to his players during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 24, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lost At Sea

Twenty played and just outside the wildcard. A bubble team. Let’s be completely honest, the Leafs have yet to come as advertised. Not on a nightly basis. When they do bring it, its not a complete effort. Fans have not been impressed.

The “it will be just fine” group are fighting back their obvious frustration but if the concealed eye twitching is any indication, this group is about to go Britney 07’ (if you don’t know the reference, look it up. Its hilarious!). The “fire everyone” including the pretzel cart crowd and media, are louder than they have been since before the start of the rebuild, and that is saying something. No matter what, fan, media, player or coach, no one feels great right now, and maybe they shouldn’t. Is it time to panic? Probably not. Should Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock be content? I’d certainly hope not.

It is not unlike the fans of Toronto to get worked up over a little problem, in fact, you could even say that the fans and media in Toronto may even blow things out of proportion, all the time. So when evaluating the team it’s usually best to ignore the opinions of others; on the best of days, fans can range from excessively hot to Taylor Swift Breakup Song cold. But at twenty games played, the tune of critics perpetuates louder and reason no longer seems attune to the reasonable.

Stormy Weather

After a questionable start to the season, some Leafs fans were noticeably agitated. As discussed above, this is ritualistic of some fans and therefore, the cooler heads proceeded to fan the flames of presumption. After all, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a fair sample size before demanding Mike Babcock’s head on a stick or the freshly bottled tears of William Nylander’s first born son. Twenty games in though and the optimists can no longer justify optimism, at least not without sounding as out of touch as the detractors once did themselves.

9-7-4 this season, good for ninth in the conference and fourth in the division. If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Leafs are on the outside looking in to a one-legged Pittsburgh, who they play Saturday night, incidentally. For your information, both Toronto and Pittsburgh have twenty-two points and Toronto has two games in hand. In fact, Toronto has played at least one or two more games than anyone in their division except for LaFreniere hopefuls, the Detroit Red Wings and while not in the worst shape possible, they are sitting in fourth place in a squeaky tight Atlantic. This of course, is a cause for concern to some.

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The line between Abraham and Ahab

At the very least, Mike Babcock needs to know his audience. Whether it is practical or not, whether Kyle Dubas admits it or not, Mike Babcock is most certainly on the hot seat. In Toronto, fans have two rules, guilty until proven innocent and “where’s my cup?” It may not be fair, it may not be reasonable, but it’s Toronto baby and you better get used to it. Like I said, know your audience.

After just one season of bottom feeding, Mike Babcock was the beneficiary, or maybe even the engine, behind early success that amounted to Toronto’s first playoff berth since the lockout 2013 season. This was a bittersweet conclusion. Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs would go on to overachieve not just once but twice, as they would make the playoffs the following year as well.

To Mike Babcock’s credit, it is very likely that the Maple Leafs would not have made the playoffs either year without him. To his detriment, neither fans nor pundits recognize this over-achievement and as a result, he is judged not by what he accomplished but instead, by what he didn’t. Like I said above, rule number two, “where’s my cup?”. The fact is that Mike Babcock’s overwhelming sense of pride pushed him to exceed beyond expectations within the first two seasons that he willed the Leafs to the playoffs, but as a result, in the court of public opinion, he is now accountable for those two first-round exits, and the third one that would follow. A classic case of situational irony.

TORONTO, ON- APRIL 19 – The Bruins score in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs lose game 4 to the Boston Bruins 3-1 their first round NHL Stanley Cup playoff series at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. April 19, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Although there is a distinct possibility that Babcock will be run out of town, it is more likely that his fate will be to by his own inertia, “A tendency to do nothing or remain the same” or his hubris, “excessive pride or self-confidence”. You have to give him credit, he preaches a system that requires trust and to set the example, he buys into it harder than anyone else. That being said, it doesn’t take an award-winning analyst to see, Mike Babcock has a bit of an issue with change and possibly even playing nicely with others. Some of that is speculation of course, but both statistical evaluation and the eye test agree on this one, Mike Babcock is methodical to a fault.

“What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do!”

His accolades exceed him, he is the consonant “winner”. Mike Babcock has been the engine behind Mike Babcock and unfortunately for him, he can’t see it any other way. His inability to take responsibility and to recognize errors within his own structure and actions will most likely be his downfall, and at this point, it’s probably naive to think otherwise. To go deep in today’s NHL, it is important be able to adapt both strategically and situationally and as hard as it is to say it, he has not demonstrated these characteristics, at least not to the comfort of fans.

There is no doubt that Mike Babcock is a phenomenal coach, and his ability to get the best out of his players is mostly unrivaled. If coaching players won you cups, Mike Babcock would have rings on his toes but coaching and adapting to situations is a huge part of the game and until Mike Babcock gets that, until he really gets it, he will continue to lose to his own predictability.

The Brain Does What’s Best For The Body

If Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas have made anything clear, it’s that they will not instantly bend to the demands of the fans or media. Note the word “instantly”, because in life, just like in hockey, you can only resist so much pressure and stop so many shots, before one hits the twine. The fact is, whether anybody likes it or not, Mike Babcock’s job is his to lose but if his blind self-reliance continues to translate to looking flat-footed as the highest paid coach In the NHL, you can be certain that that the pressure to retool the coaching staff will supersede the alternative.

If you build an expensive house and it gets cold, you don’t build a new house, you replace the heating system. Mike Babcock serves a function to something bigger than Mike Babcock and it’s fair to say that if he doesn’t get that, and soon, then the Leafs have no choice but to get a new heating system because they most certainly aren’t about to build a new house.

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