I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was a unique day for myself because that same day, I was attending a performance of Hamlet for my Grade 12 English class. I knew that Mike Babcock would be making his decision sometime that day, but at the time, the Leafs were said to be out of it, so I had no concern.
I checked my phone during the intermission to find out that my phone had blown up, because Babcock had chosen his team: the Toronto Maple Leafs. The choice seemed to have been down to Buffalo and Toronto, and Babcock decided to sign only for the money, instead of picking the much further developed team, and went to Toronto. That day showed that this team really was heading in the right direction.
Two years later, and I think no differently from that day. Babcock has proven to be the coach that everyone talks about, taking the Leafs to new heights from its mediocrity before.
Ok, maybe not that much in the first year. However, there were signs of improvement, despite the fact that the Leafs finished last in Babcock’s first season at the helm. Even though they dropped from 27th to 30th from the previous season, they actually (slightly) improved their point total from 68 to 69, the highest point total from a last place team since 2007-08, when Tampa Bay finished with 71. They were also the only team since Corsi has been tracked to finish last place with above a 50% 5v5 CF%. It was only 50.23%, but much better than your typical last place team.
While 2015-16 gave us an idea as to how good Babcock’s systems were, it was clouded by horrendous goaltending from Jonathan Bernier and almost no offense from the team, which saw PA Parenteau as the team’s only 20 goal scorer, and Nazem Kadri be unable to buy a goal for the first half of the season. The team improved on this by adding a bunch of young scoring talent, including Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner; having a healthy James van Riemsdyk for a full season; and they acquired Frederik Andersen in the offseason to fix their goalie problem.
With a significantly more talented team in front of him, Babcock coached the Leafs to their first playoff appearance in a full season in the cap era. The team certainly tried to make it as difficult as possible, but they got the final wildcard spot, and managed to challenge the Capitals in a six game series before bowing out. Babcock’s coaching paid off for him, as he got a nomination for the Jack Adams, along with Todd McLellan and John Tortorella.
Having Babcock for the last two seasons reminded me how nice it was to watch a team with good coaching. Having spent three years and four seasons in the Carlyle era, it was exciting watching a team that was actually competitive every game. It was also nice to see a team that knew what it was doing. Whether it was what he said to the media (how’s that theory on concussion’s, Randy?), or his lineup decisions, aside from anyone named Roman or Matt, Babcock reminded us what a classy, intelligent coach looks like.
Babcock’s already a quarter of the way through his contract, but he’s already shown us what he’s capable of getting this team to do, and has given us hope that the Leafs may finally end their lengthy Cup drought. Only time will tell, but it’s looking pretty good.