In one fell swoop Mike Babcock has lost his two wingmen and assistant coaches DJ Smith and Jim Hiller. Change can be scary, but in this case Mike Babcock and Leafs Nation should embrace this positive mix up.
The big news in Leafs Nation wasn’t about Babcock, but that the Ottawa Senators had hired Maple Leafs assistant coach DJ Smith as their new head coach. Succeeding Guy Boucher, Smith’s focus is on team defense and will have a young pool of players in the Sens organization to mold into NHLers.
The hidden story was Jim Hiller, Babcock’s other assistant coach, being relieved of his duties as the powerplay coach. Paul McFarland was hired in his place, bringing a fresh face to a team that underperformed on the powerplay last season.
Change is scary but sometimes it needs to be embraced. This is one of these instances. The Leafs have stalled out in the first round of the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. Dubas and Co. (Babcock and Shanahan) have decided to refresh Babs’ crew in an effort to eradicate this behavior and take the next step.
Babcock is the man, but on thin ice?
It seems like this may be the case. Dubas stepped up to put his faith in Babcock as the Leafs coach heading into a pivotal offseason. That being said, the next move he made was to move out both of his assistant coaches.
I don’t doubt Dubas’ vote of confidence in Babcock, but there is some rather obvious subtext here. To spell it out, if he can’t get it to work his crew or the new coaches, then Babcock may be the problem.
The logic to not fire Babcock is sound here, as well. Is there a better coach available? Maybe. Do we know that for sure? No. Quenneville would have been the top candidate, but his eventual failure with Chicago casts enough doubt over his appointment to support keeping Babcock.
Babs losing his toys?
It’s an analogy and not a great one, but Babcock is losing everything he holds dear. That’s a bit dramatic, but his boys Hiller and Smith are gone which is certainly important! Hiller more so than Smith, as he followed him over from Detroit.
The next step will be player personnel with one important name circled. Should Ron Hainsey not be on the 2019/20 Maple Leafs it’s clear that Kyle Dubas is sending a message to his coach. Hainsey was a Babcock favourite, ending up 5th in team ice time, averaging 20:15 minutes a game.
\While the vet held up and performed well last season, Babcock’s reluctance to play anyone else with Rielly was extremely limiting to both players. Hainsey was miscast against elite offensive opposition, while Rielly was tethered to a reliable but underwhelming veteran partner.
Most Leaf fans would agree that Hainsey returning on a 1-year deal would be awesome for the team. The only issue is that Babcock can’t be trusted not to pair him with Rielly again instead of attempting new, innovative pairings.
With his assistant coaches now gone and large decisions looming over his players, Babcock will be forced into the change both he and Dubas unanimously agreed was needed. The fresh faces will be good, but the ice is getting thinner under the Leafs head coach.