Despite plenty of fans calling for his head, and some recent speculation given his connection with Ken Holland, Mike Babcock will be the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019-20. Bob McKenzie of TSN spoke to Toronto GM Kyle Dubas, who gave a full vote of confidence to his head coach:
We’re all in on Mike and Mike is all in on us. We’ve had productive management meetings as an organization and Mike and I have had some really good meetings as well since the season ended. It’s our very strong belief Mike is the one to lead us, that’s the reality of it.
Babcock, 56, still has four years left on his eight-year deal with the Maple Leafs, one which pays him $6.25MM per season. That kind of commitment wasn’t made without considerable faith in the veteran head coach, and won’t be dismissed so easily.
Speculation started when the Maple Leafs were eliminated in the first round for the third consecutive season, and Dubas refused to guarantee the coaching staff would be back, instead deflecting the question and explaining that everyone from the top down would be evaluated. It still would have been very surprising to see Toronto move on, given the growth they’ve experienced since Babcock joined the team.
Hired in 2015, the former Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings head coach promised pain to the fan base when he joined the club given the state of the team at the time. The Maple Leafs finished last in the NHL during that first season and won the draft lottery for the chance to select Auston Matthews, before immediately surprising the league in Babcock’s sophomore season. Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and other rookies carried the team to the playoffs where they showed plenty of fight against the Washington Capitals, only to lose in six games. Two consecutive seven-game series against the Boston Bruins followed, but the Maple Leafs eclipsed the 100-point mark in each year.
The vote of confidence in Babcock did not extend one way or the other to the assistant coaches, which is important to note given the presence of a Dubas hire sitting in the minor leagues. Sheldon Keefe, who worked with Dubas with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, has the Toronto Marlies undefeated in the Calder Cup playoffs and looking like they might repeat as AHL champions. Keefe could be a potential option for several coaching vacancies around the league, which only fueled the speculation around Babcock further.