We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.
The worst of the worst.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs have been at their poorest on the second halves of back-to-backs to this point in the season, the club’s performance versus the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night was the crowning moment of their consecutive-night failures.
It was a shambolic defensive effort in front of debuting backup netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo, who is now rather unfortunately written forever in the record books following a 6-1 loss.
Still on nine wins through 22 games to begin the season, and reeling, Toronto will continue on with its next five games on the road beginning Tuesday in Vegas.
Until then, a single point.
First Point: Something absolutely has to change
There wasn’t a key moment to identify and overanalyze, and no underlying reason for the Maple Leafs’ inexcusable failure in Pittsburgh. And no reason to break down the tape, or serve up an explanation or an excuse for how it unfolded.
It has to be a broad stroke after the Leafs suffered their fifth consecutive loss and saw their points percentage tumble into the bottom third in the NHL.
Something needs to change here. Fast.
For most, that notion tends to equate to a move on head coach Mike Babcock — and that’s within reason. Running the bench for a team that seems to be devolving from an organizational perspective, and seems further and further from uncovering an answer for their lapses in coverage and inability to generate meaningful moments in the offensive end, Babcock has blood all over his hands, obviously. And even before the team went out and wasted the first quarter of the season, he was already considered the most vulnerable from an organization perspective due to the simple fact that players and executives out-live coaches — especially ones that have already had the opportunity to try on new assistants.
With not a single bullet used at the management level by this current regime, it’s seemed clear for some time now that the first would belong to Babcock if the team continued to fail to progress. This likely has not changed.
Yet in some ways, it would be unfair to cut the legs out from underneath Babcock at this moment. There were holes on this roster before it started to crumble with key injuries, and there are many players in key spots that are simply failing to live up to the standard that should be expected of them.
How Babcock has manipulated the roster is an important part of the discussion, but the determination that has to be made right now is closer related to the latter.
Which is, what is the connection between coach and failure at the individual level?
For many frustrated fans, little time will be needed to come to the conclusion to that question. But there would be a seller’s beware element to pink-slipping the well-compensated head coach, even if management is fully convinced that he’s dragging them down.
What does that say to a collection of young players that aren’t holding up to their end of the bargain themselves?
Or more importantly, what sort of position does that leave the heir apparent, Sheldon Keefe?
While it’s clear that General Manager Kyle Dubas has all the confidence in the world in Keefe and prefers a reality in which his coach’s vision aligns precisely with his own, wouldn’t removing Keefe from his role with the Marlies be the potential coaching equivalent to the cruel fate Kaskisuo suffered Saturday night in Pittsburgh?
Wouldn’t it be best for Keefe to operate with a clean slate, to not have to deal with the noise that would emanate from a market like Toronto when the expectation was that its grossly underperforming hockey team would compete for a Stanley Cup?
Protecting the future might be the best reason to be patient in the present.
Maybe for that reason it’s best to pursue re-defined expectations for the remainder of the season. Maybe it’s the wild card, not the division title, that this team now should set its sights on. And hey, perhaps that puts them in a better position come playoff time, anyway.
There are significant ramifications associated with a decision that can’t be undone.
Waiting isn’t the popular opinion, but it might be the right one.
You would at least be closer to certain, then, if the coach really is the problem.
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