For the third straight spring with Mike Babcock making $6.25 million a season to coach them, the Toronto Maple Leafs have lost in the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs.
With four years still left on his contract, firing Babcock would cost the ownership of the Maple Leafs several million dollars, as per the mathematics of the deal.
As general manager of the Maple Leafs, the perception is that 33-year old general manager Kyle Dubas is the one who will make the call — with the blessing of team president Brendan Shanahan — as to whether Babcock should be retained or be fired.
For starters, it should be noted that it was Shanahan who hired Babcock well before Dubas became the GM of the Maple Leafs. In other words, Babcock is not Dubas’s “guy.”
And even if Dubas did hire Babcock, the underwhelming performance of the Maple Leafs during the past three playoff seasons might be cause for the Sault Ste. Marie native to be seriously pondering a coaching change.
There are those who might wonder if a relative neophyte like Dubas would have the strength, resolve and culjones to fire a grizzled NHL coaching veteran that Babcock is.
Well, those who know Dubas from his time as a 26-year old general manager with the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League certainly know that he has confidence in himself and what he believes in and is not afraid to go against the grain.
When Dubas first interviewed for the Greyhound GM job as a mere pup, he so wowed ownership with his preparation and detailed plans that he was given the job over candidates with much more experience.
When his first coaching hire with the Greyhounds did not pan out, Dubas went out and hired hockey bad boy Sheldon Keefe to coach the Soo. And it did not take long for Keefe to become an outstanding OHL head coach for the Greyhounds — and since carry on his winning ways with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, who just happen to be the no. 1 farm club of the NHL Maple Leafs.
It seems rather safe to say that if Babcock’s future with the Maple Leafs is Dubas’s decision to make, then the boy wonder from the Soo will do what he thinks is right — either way — and not be swayed by the forum of public opinion.
Personally, I am not a Maple Leafs fan. (Someone who grew up cheering for the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings really can’t be a Maple Leafs fan.)
But I have grown to become a Dubas fan.
I thought he was too inexperienced — his age didn’t bother me — when he was first hired as GM of the Greyhounds. But he quickly showed me — and others — how his vision for the game, which included detailed analytics, put him ahead of his time in how hockey is now managed, coached and played.
At any rate, having said that I am not a Maple Leafs — they were my least-favourite NHL team while growing up during the days of the Original Six — I would like to see Toronto have some NHL success, if only because of a guy like Dubas.
As for who will or won’t be coaching the Maple Leafs next season, there is a belief that Dubas will make the right decision — firmly and with a lot of thought.
PHOTO: Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. (Photo by Postmedia.)