Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was fired last week – just after I posted so I didn’t get a chance to address it. I’m pretty glad I missed that deadline because that story seems to have exploded into a league wide witch-hunt going back decades. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a witch hunt? Because it seems to have legitimately caught several incidences of wrongdoing. Babcock making rookie Mitch Marner list the least hardworking players on the team and then showing it to his teammates started as a bit of gossip, but has been confirmed by multiple sources. Then Bill Peters got called out for several incidents of racial slurs and hitting players. Now Daniel Carcillo has the Sutter family in his crosshairs accusing them of abuse of young players as well. At first I was skeptical as guys like Akim Aliu and Daniel Carcillo seem like controversy causing malcontents who’ve had incidents dog them their entire careers. However, Rod Brind’Amour is a guy I respect and an NHL head coach so his confirmation of some of Peters’ abuses seems to lend credence to the whole thing.
So Babcock’s set off a whole modern era social media fueled Inquisition against coaches. How do I feel about Babcock being fired? At the time I’d thought well, the Leafs lack of success wasn’t necessarily his fault. However, Coaches should be responsible for a few things in particular – Special Teams and getting the most out of talent. My attitude towards a lot of the “rah rah” attitude that comes with sports is whatever, you’re a grown man you can motivate yourself. If you got to the elite level of the NHL you should have a pretty good work ethic by then. On the other hand, I would not be dismissive of the effect a “bad boss” can have on a working environment. If the boys dreading coming in to work every day – and it’s becoming increasingly apparent they did – then I’m happy he was fired. Our special teams were really bad so that was already on him.
Conversely – how many wins can great coaching squeeze out of the 82 game schedule? According to Barry Trotz on Long Island, all of them. Babcock’s resume included multiple Stanley Cups with Detroit and 2 Olympic Gold Medals. The word out of Detroit I’m hearing in the wake of all this is that Lidstrom was actually the coach. Team Canada? Let’s not be too quick to dismiss Babcock’s contribution there. Marc Crawford’s shootout card filling skills proved that a coach can definitely LOSE the Olympics for a stacked Canadian team by benching Wayne Gretzky. So while it’s suddenly all the rage to burn coaches at the stake let’s make sure we don’t denigrate certain coaches accomplishments just because it’s suddenly en vogue to do so.
Which brings me to one of my least favorite coaches – John Tortorella. Tortorella undoubtedly was a huge factor in the startling exodus from Columbus this offseason. A newly persistent rumour is that the Leafs massive ransom contracts from Marner and William Nylander were a side effect of the Babcock tax – players wanting more money to put up with his “style” of coaching. Torts was always a paradox of coaching to me. You can’t have players holding management for ransom or running the team or backtalking the coach. That said, players are much more valuable assets than coaches to me. So who to side with?
I seem to have said much with very little conclusions. Well, yeah. If I had the answers to the correct psychology of being a coach I would have replaced Babcock instead of Sheldon Keefe. There are no easy answers to the problems of racism, union-management conflicts, motivating players or hazing. I don’t know where the line is between the sanctity of the locker room and silencing things that should be public knowledge. There’s one thing I can say – STOP BEING FUCKING ASSHOLES. This is a terrible look for the NHL at large and it’s taking headlines away from the game itself. This is mostly directed at these liberty taking coaches but there’s some reserved for the armchair twitter crew who love making value judgements on others. We should be talking about David Pastrnak’s hat trick, Darcy Kuemper’s quiet Vezina stats, or Cale Makar keeping up with Alex Ovechkin in points. Is Edmonton for real and will Tampa Bay miss the playoffs? How has Winnipeg stayed relevant despite losing most of their core?