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Maple Leafs to move forward without Mike Babcock

It was the announcement heard around the hockey world. Mike Babcock has coached his final game behind the bench for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

By Alex Mahar [1]

BELLEVILLE – The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired head coach Mike Babcock.

The team announced Wednesday night that Babcock has been relieved of his coaching duties [2] and will be replaced by rookie head coach Sheldon Keefe.

Babcock was hired by team president Brendan Shanahan and former general manger Lou Lamoriello in the summer of 2015. Babcock signed an eight year, 50-million-dollar deal [3] which made him the highest paid National Hockey League coach in history.

Babcock was brought in to save a Maple Leafs organization that had become the laughing stock of the league. The rebuild became known as the “Shanaplan”.

In Babcock’s first season with the Leafs he promised pain. The team tanked to a league worst 29-42-11 record and won the draft lottery which allowed them to select franchise centre Auston Matthews [4] first overall in the 2016 draft.

In the summer of 2016, Babcock was given a rebuilt roster to work with and lead the team to a 40-27-15 record which was good enough to earn the Leafs a playoff spot for the first time since 2013.

In the following season the Maple Leafs set a franchise record in points with a 49-26-7 record, but again were ousted in the first-round, this time by the Boston Bruins.

The 2018 off-season was the summer of change for the Maple Leafs. Veteran general manger Lamorello was let go and rookie general manager Kyle Dubas was selected to fill his shoes.

Dubas burst onto the scene by signing superstar centre John Tavares to a hefty seven year, 77 million-dollar deal which raised the expectations for Babcock and the Leafs to win now.

A team loaded with top end talent didn’t respond to Babcock’s tactics. The team finished with a worse record at 46-28-8 and was again knocked out in the first round by the Bruins.

Meanwhile in the American Hockey League, Sheldon Keefe has been putting on a coaching clinic.

Keefe took over with the Toronto Marlies in 2015 and has done nothing but win: three conference final appearances, a 199-89-22-9 all-time record, capped off by a Calder Cup championship in 2018.

Keefe was recruited to the Maple Leafs organization by Dubas [5]. The two worked together as general manager and head coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sue. Ste Marie Greyhounds.

When the Maple Leafs were booted in the first round for the third consecutive season, the fingers started to point at Babcock.

Babcock was given the start of this season to prove himself as the right head coach for the franchise, but after a 9-10-4 start and a current six-game losing skid, the Maple Leafs brass decided to pull the plug on Babcock’s tenure as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

Babcock released a statement following the news.

So, in comes Keefe — the 31st coach in franchise history. 

Sheldon Keefe signed a two-year extension with the Toronto Marlies in the summer of 2019. Success has followed Keefe everywhere he’s gone. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Remember, the St. Louis Blues fired head coach Mike Yeo on the exact same date last season, replaced him with Craig Berube and went onto win the Stanley Cup.

Let’s see what happens in Toronto.