The Toronto Maple Leafs finally did the thing! Congrats to the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class and taking a look at who might join them in 2020.
Wednesday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their now former head coach, Mike Babcock, and promoted Sheldon Keefe as the new head coach of the Leafs from his previous head coaching duties with the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
It’s a move that everyone likely saw coming, but this soon? That’s impressive.
Babcock was adamant in his coaching abilities and in his belief in himself as “the greatest coach who ever lived” (paraphrasing, obviously), but could not salvage his hubris when it mattered most– right now.
Toronto is currently 9-10-4 (22 points) on the season, 5th place in the Atlantic Division and outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Luckily for the Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, 25 points), Philadelphia Flyers (10-7-4, 24 points) and Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3, 23 points) aren’t that far ahead of them in the standings for now.
It’s the perfect time to be bold and make a move if you’re looking to provide a short-term spark that will hopefully re-ignite some cooling embers and launch the Maple Leafs back into playoff contention at the very least– if not Stanley Cup contention, as many have expected for a few years now before Toronto’s General Manager, Kyle Dubas, was forced to spend about $40.489 million on William Nylander, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner while somehow forgetting the importance of a defense and a backup goaltender in the process.
For a team that used to employ a coach that notoriously bet on himself and his process for better or worse, well, they’re betting heavily on the salary cap ceiling to make a significant jump by the time a new national TV rights distribution package in the United States is negotiated in 2022.
But that’s a separate discussion entirely.
For now, we’re left in the wake of a post-Babcock Leafs Era and what it means for the Boston Bruins– Toronto’s biggest rival most recently.
The 56-year-old former head coach in Toronto was in his 5th year of an eight-year, $50.000 million contract with the Maple Leafs.
Toronto went 29-42-11 in the 2015-16 season, which led them to drafting Matthews with the 1st overall pick in the 2016 Draft.
The following year, Babcock and the Maple Leafs improved to 40-27-15, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013, before losing in six games to the Washington Capitals in the 2017 First Round.
Then history repeated itself as the Leafs went 49-26-7 in the 2017-18 regular season before losing in seven games to Boston in the 2018 First Round.
From there it was a broken record for Toronto– a 46-28-9 effort in 2018-19 led to another First Round matchup with Boston and another Game 7 loss on the road to the Bruins in the 2019 First Round.
This season, through 23 games, the Leafs have six wins in regulation. They have nine total.
Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series since he was still with the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. He hasn’t led a team back to the Stanley Cup Final since losing in 2009 with Detroit in the Red Wings-Penguins rematch from 2008.
He may be “Canada’s Coach”, but he isn’t “Canada’s favorite team’s head coach” anymore.
Enter Keefe, a 39-year-old, from Brampton, Ontario– a short drive from Toronto– emerging as “The Chosen One”.
Hired by Toronto to lead the Marlies on June 8, 2015, Keefe had a respectable first season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in 2015-16, notching a 54-16-5-1 record (wins-losses-overtime losses-shootout losses, for those of you who aren’t AHL savvy).
Keefe pushed his team all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs (his rookie season as an AHL coach, mind you) before the Marlies succumbed to the Hershey Bears in five games.
In 2016-17, Keefe coached his team to a 42-29-4-1 record and a North Division Final appearance in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs that resulted in a Game 7 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.
That loss didn’t set the Marlies back, but instead motivated Keefe and his team as they marched to a 54-18-2-2 record in 2017-18 and a 2018 Calder Cup Final appearance.
They defeated the Texas Stars in seven games and captured Toronto’s first championship in ice hockey since the NHL’s Maple Leafs raised the Stanley Cup in 1967.
Though it was only the AHL, it proved that something was in the works.
Dubas’ masterplan was coming to fruition as the analytics guru rose to power– taking over as GM of the Maple Leafs with Lou Lamoriello’s departure in the 2018 offseason.
Keefe had followed Dubas from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) to the Maple Leafs organization in 2015, but Babcock stood in the way of his destiny, it seemed.
Babcock was Lamoriello’s choice and fit with Brendan Shanahan’s “Shanaplan”.
Keefe fit with Dubas in the contemporary game, “Shanaplan” be damned.
In 2018-19, Keefe led the Marlies to a 39-24-9-4 record and an Eastern Conference Final appearance for the 2nd year in a row in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Though the Marlies lost to the Charlotte Checkers in six games, one thing was for certain– Keefe had it going in the minor league.
It’s not every day that a coach is able to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in his rookie season, let alone in three of his first four full seasons as an AHL bench boss.
Up until his promotion to the NHL, Keefe amassed a 10-2-2-1 record with the Marlies this season.
They were 1st in the North Division at the time of his departure for the big league.
In 320 career AHL games with the Marlies, Keefe collected a 199-89-22-9 record and a .622 winning percentage in the process– plus one Calder Cup championship in 2018.
So, what does this mean for the Bruins?
A lot when you factor in advantages and disadvantages for each team in the promotion of Keefe from the Marlies to the Leafs.
First, for Toronto, the advantages of having Keefe for a potential playoff matchup with Boston.
The core of Toronto’s current roster (Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly and even Frederik Andersen) has lost in the First Round in at least one of the last three postseasons (Tavares is the only member who hasn’t had to endure three-straight soul crushing First Round departures under Babcock’s reign).
Yes, this may seem bad, but it actually speaks volumes for their playoff experience.
This team is hungry– right from its core– and its fanbase, its front office and its backyard media wants to win sooner rather than later.
Plus, Nylander’s 2nd season in the AHL (although it was only a partial season) overlapped with Keefe’s time behind the bench of the Marlies, so there’s some familiarity between one of the four highest paid players on the Leafs and their head coach.
Additionally, Kapanen, Hyman and others have experience with Keefe and the Marlies’ system.
There’s enough familiarity there for something– potentially something dangerous.
Now for the advantages for Boston.
History is on their side. Boston’s core (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask) has shown its capable of making another Cup run (even with an aging captain and 1-2 centers).
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, remains a constant and in control.
Boston missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but Claude Julien was still their head coach then, so the combination of Cassidy, plus Chara, Bergeron and Krejci’s leadership made for an easier transition into getting the team back into a “top of their game” playoff performer (and eventual Cup contender in 2019).
This isn’t a luxury the Leafs have, where the team’s looking to get back into postseason contention, period, let alone win a series.
Toronto missed the playoffs in their first year with Babcock, but made it for the last three years and lost each year in the First Round.
This leads to Toronto’s disadvantages for another potential postseason meeting with the Bruins.
History is not on Toronto’s side and neither are the statistics.
Yes, Dubas’ 2nd favorite thing in the world– analytics– could get in the way of his 1st favorite thing in the world– bringing the Cup back to the Maple Leafs organization.
As things stand, the Leafs have a greater chance of missing the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs than making them currently.
Toronto– the city, the fans, the players, the front office and the media– wants to win right now. There’s no room for excuses (even if they’re legitimate, like taking one’s time to formulate a defense via prospects or trades and supplementing Andersen in the crease with a legitimate backup goaltender).
But, whereas Cassidy inherited broken pieces in Boston that were addressed and revamped as the team went from outside the playoffs two years in a row to making three consecutive postseason appearances under Cassidy in his head coaching tenure with the B’s– addressing the need for depth down the lineup in the process without the likes of a highly touted free agent acquisition– Keefe and the Leafs have the majority of this season to work on that necessary synergy with a better offense (on paper).
Cassidy was named interim head coach of the Bruins in Feb. 2017. Boston was ousted by the Ottawa Senators in six games in the 2017 First Round and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the 2018 Second Round prior to their 2019 Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Keefe has Tavares, Matthews and Marner (when healthy) to unleash on any given night and could very well pull a turnaround in one season a la the St. Louis Blues last season (who beat the Bruins in the Final in Game 7 at TD Garden) or the Penguins in 2009 (when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien midseason and won the Cup) and 2016 (when Mike Sullivan replaced Bylsma midseason and won the Cup).
In that sense, recent history is actually on Toronto’s side.
Boston had some growing pains to go with their dramatic improvement, but the Leafs are built to counteract that pain if Keefe can find a better way to manage it than Babcock did.
As it is, Cassidy is 130-55-27 in 212 games with Boston from 2017-present (good enough for a .613 winning percentage), but 207-128-21-24 in 380 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL) from 2011-16 (.545 winning%).
Babcock was 173-133-45 in 351 games with the Maple Leafs from 2015-19 (.493 winning%).
Keefe gets the final say and has his .622 winning% in 320 games with the Marlies going for him as he steps into the biggest role behind any bench in the National Hockey League.
Playoffs or not, the rest of this season is about to be a wild ride for the Maple Leafs and their fans.
Bruins fans be worried or not.
For the first time this season, the calendar is flipped to a new month– and with a new month comes new expectations.
All 31 National Hockey League teams are starting to find a rhythm– for better or worse– and it’s time to acknowledge the general trends of what to expect based on what’s already happened for the first 1/8th of the season (approximately).
American Thanksgiving is still around the corner, which means that any team in a playoff position by Nov. 28th is more likely to qualify for the playoffs by April 4th.
There’s enough time between now and then for a lot to change.
As always, that means it’s time for a new forecast based on what we’ve seen so far and what we may see in the future.
In other words, here’s an educated guess based on a formulaic approach thanks to the wonderful world of spreadsheets.
This isn’t an exact science. It takes into account everything from the last few seasons, as well as every little detail through the end of Oct. 31, 2019.
Anything can happen. It’s a long road to April.
Projected Standings After One Month
- p-Boston Bruins, 110 points (12 games played entering November 1st)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (12 GP)
- x-Montreal Canadiens, 92 points (13 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 91 points (13 GP)
- Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points (14 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 82 points (13 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 79 points (13 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 74 points (11 GP)
The Boston Bruins are off to a hot start thanks to Tuukka Rask’s stellar goaltending (6-0-1 record, 1.42 goals against average, .951 save percentage in seven games played) and David Pastrnak’s hot stick (12-12–24 totals in 12 games played).
Bruce Cassidy’s leadership behind the bench has steered the B’s away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance hangover and towards another playoff berth for what would be the fourth year in-a-row.
Meanwhile, after a slow start to their season, Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay Lightning casually waltz into home ice advantage in at least the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Claude Julien re-enters the postseason frame with the Montreal Canadiens as if it’s 2004 again (granted, Julien and the Habs made it in 2017, but only after Julien replaced Michel Therrien as head coach for the second time).
Joel Quenneville’s first season as head coach of the Florida Panthers led to an improvement, but not quite enough to get them back into the postseason, while another Stanely Cup winning coach took his team in a different direction.
That coach is Mike Babcock and that team is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who trudged through the middle of the road all season and ended up just outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (unless Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan decide to stray from the “Shanaplan”).
Though the Buffalo Sabres are hot right now, it seems history repeats itself. Buffalo’s great October, November and/or December wasn’t enough to sustain themselves through the winer months of January, February and March, but overall the team improved and should be a playoff contender next season.
At least the Sabres aren’t the Detroit Red Wings (still a few years away from being a contender) or the Ottawa Senators (they say they’ll spend money in 2021, but…).
- y-Washington Capitals, 110 points (14 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points (13 GP)
- x-New York Islanders, 95 points (11 GP)
- wc1-Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points (12 GP)
- wc2-Columbus Blue Jackets, 91 points (12 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (11 GP)
- New York Rangers, 87 points (10 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 81 points (10 GP)
Alex Ovechkin continues his annual quest for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and likely succeeds unless Pastrnak has anything to say about it.
In the meantime, the Washington Capitals continue to take home the regular season crown in the Metropolitan Division because somehow they always seem to do that no matter the postseason outcome.
The Pittsburgh Penguins avoid major missteps without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for most of October due to injury and turned things on for the duration of the second half of the season as they always do, yielding 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division.
Barry Trotz’s leadership with the New York Islanders has keep things tight-knit and playoff bound, but unless every 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff home game for the Isles is played at NYCB Live/Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, then it’s not worth it.
Rod Brind’Amour is the best coach for the Carolina Hurricanes and he continues to climb the ranks of “best head coaches in franchise history” with another wild card appearance, at least, and what should be yet another thrilling playoff run for the Canes.
Meanwhile, somehow the Columbus Blue Jackets pieced together enough wins to snag the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference before bowing out in the First Round due to a lack of depth.
Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are all near the bottom of the division, but only with a few points spread between them– meaning that anything after 1st or 2nd place in the division is realistically up for grabs as long as a team goes on a perfectly timed run.
- z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (13 GP)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (13 GP)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 93 points (13 GP)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (12 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (11 GP)
- Dallas Stars, 86 points (14 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (13 GP)
In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are going to pounce on the competition as the leaders of the West in the regular season. The only trouble is, they still might blow it in the last second of overtime or something.
The defending champion St. Louis Blues are content to finish 2nd in the Central Division, but remain hungry in their quest for another Cup.
After a slow start to the season, Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets somehow right the ship and earned themselves the last divisional spot in the Central Division.
But the Colorado Avalanche hold a wild card spot in the latest forecast as the real wild card of the entire Western Conference. Injuries could hold them back in the regular season, but they’ve shown they can make noise in the playoffs last spring.
Otherwise, if the Avs can stay healthy for longer periods of time, then Colorado could climb in the standings.
Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks are still trending in the wrong direction– facing the existential crisis of holding onto the old guard or continuing to dismantle their Cup-winning core– while the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild compete for the worst of the former and/or current Minnesota franchises this season.
Spoiler alert, it’s the Wild.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (14 GP)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (14 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 92 points (13 GP)
- wc2-Calgary Flames, 91 points (15 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 89 points (12 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (14 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 82 points (12 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 82 points (13 GP)
Nothing is going how things were expected to go in the Pacific Division and as a result, there’s still no conclusive results.
The Vegas Golden Knights are good and could likely win the Pacific Division regular season title, but the Anaheim Ducks aren’t bowing out of playoff contention just yet.
Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks are as bad as the Los Angeles Kings, so this forecast will be further fine-tuned next month as the Sharks continue to slip from dominant to dormant in the standings.
The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers all might take a stab at playoff contention, yet the Arizona Coyotes are on the rise.
At the very least, this is the most unpredictable division in the league that not even our current forecast can make any definitive claims.
Check back next month for further separation in the spread, as well as a more realistic view of where each team should likely land within the range of standings.
Nick, Cap’n and Pete assess the Detroit Red Wings hiring of Steve Yzerman as General Manager and Executive Vice President, as well as recap the trio of Game 7s in the First Round and preview the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.