Maple Leafs visit the Red Wings during the 2014 Winter Classic
Gregory Agbigay is a first year bachelor of public relations student at Humber College
There will be pain. Head Coach Mike Babcock said so during his introduction to the Toronto media. As much as we, the fans, might fight it, the 2015 to 2016 season will be long and painful. Let’s ignore the pain for now and look at the silver linings. In fact, there are plenty of other things to be excited for this upcoming season.
Surprisingly, the biggest off-season acquisition the Maple Leafs made wasn’t a player but a new head coach. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment didn’t just sign Babcock to an eight-year, $50 million dollar contract for no reason. Babcock is an incredibly successful coach.
Since making his NHL coaching debut in 2002 Mike Babcock has missed the playoffs once. He has been to three Stanley Cup finals and won the Stanley Cup once with the 2007-2008 Detroit Red Wings. He also won a World Championship title in 2004 and coached the men’s Canadian Olympic teams in 2010 and 2014 where they won gold in both events. If that isn’t a successful coach I don’t know what is.
Mike Babcock’s System
The Leafs under Carlyle and Horachek were abysmal. Defensive zone play a complete mess and the team struggled to keep sustained pressure in the offensive zone. They were winning games they really shouldn’t have and relied heavily on their goalies. A change needed to happen if the Leafs wanted to be a successful team going forward into the future.
If there’s one thing that Babcock’s Red Wings are known for it is their hard work on the boards, puck possession and strong defensive play. It was infuriating watching Leafs refuse to play hard in the boards. Some, and I’m not naming names, frustratingly would just stand at the blue line or top of the circle waiting for a loose puck to find its way. Can’t win Hockey games like that.
Trade Deadline Draft Picks
It’s probably terrible to think of people as assets to be sold off for profit, but there is a shocking number of Leafs who can be sold off at the trade deadline. There are eight players who are expected to enter Unrestricted Free Agency after the season, four of which signed cheap one year deals in the previous off season. These players are here to raise their value for free agency and hopefully be traded to a contending team at the Deadline. Expect these players to play hard this year.
Frankly, some of these players would have gotten better deals in previous years. This year, however, GMs are being cautious with their spending. Just look at Brad Boyes. Couldn’t get a contract during the summer and had to settle for a Professional Tryout (PTO), which he turned into a one-year, 700k contract. He put up a stat line 14G 24A 38P and couldn’t get a better contract. In comparison, Maple Leafs Tyler Bozak put up 23G 26A 49P and is going to make an average of 4.2 Million over the next three years.
Ah Jake Gardiner. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of player you are. Advanced stats tell me that you’re surprisingly good, but then we see you trying to bat a puck out of the air with your stick. Advanced stats aren’t a concrete science and should be taken with a grain of salt, but they do help paint a picture. Strip away the boneheaded plays and there very well may be a solid NHL defenseman here.
Possibly the gem of the Maple Leafs organization, Morgan Rielly will be entering his third season with the Leafs. Expect Rielly to be heavily relied upon this season.
Rielly posted a 2G 25A 27P stat line in his rookie year and followed up scoring 8G 21A 29P in his sophomore season. Respectable numbers for any young defenseman, but just looking at the numbers, he didn’t exactly make a huge jump between his first two seasons. So why am I so excited?
It is important to note that Rielly struggled under former head coach Randy Carlyle where he saw limited playing time. When Carlyle was fired Reilly saw a jump in play time from around 17 minutes a game to 20 plus. Rielly took this opportunity and saw a lot of improvement.
It was evident that playing in a losing environment had a hard toll on Rielly. He would, at times, look visibly upset and honestly one of the few players to show any real emotion. This is a player that cared when no one else really did. I have no doubt in my mind that he strives to be a better player even when it’s easier to give up.
This season is going to be yet another learning experience but, with Babcock leading behind the bench, the sky is the limit. Rielly has the dedication, passion and ability to become one of the top defenseman in the game, he just needs time. Take a good look Leafs fans, this very well may be our future captain.
This is just my opinion on the Leafs. You may feel differently. They might just be a dumpster fire of a team. One thing is for sure, there will definitely be pain. Let me know what you think.