It’s starting to get habitual, the frustrating post-Game 7 press conference with Mike Babcock. This year, the tone was disappointment mixed with a side of complacency. The Leafs’ head coach compared their consecutive first-round losses to the Boston Bruins, insisting the team has in-fact improved.
Even when the results don’t show it.
“We’ve improved our team drastically — you’ve witnessed it. This series we were a way better team than a year ago, but we’re at the same point with the same result here today, so that part is disappointing.”
Adding Tavares and a Stanley Cup champion Jake Muzzin were enough to validate the fact this team was “better” than last year, but still, no trophies are handed out for falling short on what was promised to be a better postseason. It’s like when the Predators raised a banner for winning the Central Division last season — it doesn’t count.
Rightfully so, Leafs fans are directing blame back at the coaching staff for decisions made throughout the series. Babcock seemed unwilling to shoulder much of the blame, and changed the dialogue to how Nazem Kadri’s suspension impacted his ability to make lineup changes in the series.
“It was unfortunate, the incident with Nazem obviously he wasn’t available. It was like an injured player in the playoffs. We thought that he was going to give us some depth and would have allowed us to move Willy around a bit which we were never allowed to do.”
Kadri is solely to blame for his vicious hit on of Jake DeBrusk, that is without question, but coaches should to be able to adapt to changing lineups. Kadri was suspended after Game 2 of the playoffs and Babcock was unable to find a fit for Nylander anywhere for the next five games. The so-called superstar ended up with one assist and a lot of negative DMs to sort through. One of Babcock’s answers to a Kadri-less lineup was to increase the ice time of Patrick Marleau — the 39-year-old with two goals and four assists in his last 26 games. It didn’t bode well.
Statistically speaking, the superstars fell short this series for the Blue and White, but they weren’t given the right opportunities to shine when it mattered. Matthews played his second lowest minutes of the series in Game 7, where the Leafs trailed basically the entire game. In the dying moments of their season, Babcock said “we felt Pat (Marleau) should be out there.”
That’s a no from me, dog.
The Leafs have some of the best young talent in the league, but there they were sitting on the bench watching the big moments happen. Babcock looked optimistically towards getting even more young blood next season: “We got a couple guys coming that’ll help us up front for sure and make us bigger up front”, he said, possibly speaking about Mason Marchment, a 6’4” forward with the Marlies. Regardless, it’s a tough look to be talking about adding more young talent next season when the great talent on the team wasn’t utilized properly in this series.
Babcock nonchalantly went the “they threw them at the net, they went in” route to describe the Leafs’ goaltending in Game 7. Andersen, who was undoubtably the team’s MVP throughout six games this series, didn’t shine quite as bright when it mattered in the end. Questions arise if maybe Freddie hit a wall after his third straight 60-start season, and if more evenly distributed playing time across their goaltenders would have lead to a longer playoff run. In comparison, Tuukka Rask played only 45 starts this season, and looked fresh near the end.
Jake Gardiner, who was playing through injury this season, had another Game 7 blunder that ultimately led to the Bruins’ game-winning goal. He now holds the NHL record for the worst Game 7 plus/minus with -10. When asked about Gardiner’s injury and his impact throughout the series, Babcock gave him credit for trying.
“He did what he could and in the end it wasn’t enough to help us though this series, and no fault on his part.” Babcock could’ve cut Gardiner’s minutes, or tried to give a young defender more opportunities leading up to the playoffs to give the back end more depth.
Undoubtably more conversations will arise regarding the future of Mike Babcock and his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He remains the NHL’s highest paid coach, earning $50 million on an eight-year contract he’s now halfway through.
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