Certainly there’s more to Sheldon Keefe than just his work behind the bench with the Leafs. We discussed that here, though have come to learn later that some of it is no longer the case. Today we’re just here to discuss his work the past two months with the Leafs, and leave the rest for another day.

What was clear before Keefe arrived is that life under Mike Babcock was miserable for the Leafs. Auston Matthews had just about completely tuned him and the staff out, and Hockey Night In Canada had a few chronicles of him looking dejected with them on the bench. He wasn’t alone, as Babcock’s simply abusive personal style and his stifling tactics had choked the life out of Toronto. So really anyone coming in, their simple task was to make the Leafs enjoy hockey again. That doesn’t sound all that hard when you consider the talent on offer here.

Oh, and maybe not play Cody Ceci so much.

So how has Keefe done? Whatever he is actually doing, he has certainly freed up the Leafs. Before Babcock’s firing, the Leafs had a positive possession-share but were below water in expected-goals to the tune of 47.9%. That should have never happened with the arsenal the Leafs have. Keefe obviously realized this, because since he took over the Leafs’ expected goals-percentage is 54.8, third best in the league behind Vegas and Tampa, the latter of which you might have noticed have lost like one game in the past two months.

And as you might expect, the Leafs have improved their numbers by simply upping the offense. This is a team that has at least three scoring lines and should just be bludgeoning teams. Their attempts per 60 have only gone up about one per game, but their expected goals-for has gone from 2.14 under Babcock to 2.69 under Keefe. That’s a rise of 25%. Their scoring chances per 60 has risen at just about the same rate, so clearly Keefe has found a way to get the Leafs in more dangerous areas more often. Which against the quality of finishing the Leafs have, is death to most teams.

What might really rankle Babcock is the Leafs have gotten better defensively as well, though that’s probably to do with having the puck more and creating better chances. But their expected goals-against has gone down from 2.33 under Babs to 2.22 now. Offense sometimes is the best defense?

Luck of course plays a role, though Leafs followers would argue that a happier team is more prone to get the bounces, especially when they’re forcing things more as they are. The Leafs shot 7.8% under Babcock, and that’s risen to 9.6 under Keefe. The SV% has also gone up, from .909 to .916 at evens.

The power play is also clicking a little better, with 19 goals in Keefe’s 25 games after 13 in Babs’s 23, and that might be a result of letting Matthews freelance a little more on it. The motion the Leafs get is akin to when the Sharks’ PP became self-aware a few years ago. They’re also getting that kind of movement at even strength, and there are very few teams that can live with that speed when it’s allowed to go wherever it wants.

Of late, Keefe hasn’t been hesitant to shift things around. Matthews had spent most of his time earlier with William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson, and now Marner has replaced Nylander on the top line. Zach Hyman has replaced Johnsson. Considering their xGF% is 65% together, it’s clearly working.

Keefe’s big tests are yet to come. He’ll be without both Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly for the next few weeks as both have broken a foot (how adorbs). And of course, no one’s going to care about anything until the Leafs get past the first round. Perhaps any coach could have lightened the mood simply by not being the overrated, raging asshole that Babcock apparently was. Still, the results are the results, and the Leafs certainly are a more fun bunch to watch and be around now.

Everything Else Hockey

Last week, as everyone saw coming and now everyone is aware of, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally whacked Mike Babcock after a tepid start to the season, as well as because his mostly younger players absolutely hated his guts. Since then, in true after-the-fact bus tossing fashion, plenty of stories have come out about how Babcock ruled with an iron fist and was out of touch with the modern generation of players. And while all of those stories are absolutely to be believed, it’s burying the lede on what should be the real story here, and that’s the rapid ascension of Babs’ successor, Sheldon Keefe.

Please be advised, that while the specifics remain vague, the rest of this article will discuss sexual abuse and all applicable warnings may apply.

If the name Sheldon Keefe sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Keefe was a notorious delinquent even in junior, when as captain of the OHL champion Barrie Colts in 2000, he famously refused to shake the hand of then-commissioner David Branch, as well as staged a walkout during an awards banquet, and threatened future Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards. All of this was under the manipulation of Coach David Frost, who had several run ins with the OHL himself, and even had an assistant smuggle a player into the country and was ultimately fined $25,000. Frost’s name should ring a bell too, as he was the target of a murder for hire plot from one of his former players Mike Danton/Mike Jefferson, who had accused Frost of sexual assault as a motive for his actions. Danton and Keefe were teammates and friends, having played hockey together from an early age. And at Frost’s trial, Keefe provided testimony as Frost’s alibi witness.

After only 125 NHL games, Keefe’s NHL playing career ended, and began coaching the Pembroke Lumber Kings, a Junior A team he’d purchased, which is a level below the Canadian Major Junior leagues of the CHL (Ontario, Quebec, Western leagues) that most are familiar with. Keefe allowed Frost to even lurk around the periphery of his junior team even in the midst of all of the accusations. But, given his success at that level, it led him to a job with a major junior club, the Soo Greyhounds, hired by their child GM, Kyle Dubas. And it was there, and under Keefe’s watch, that three of his players were charged with sexual assault, Andrew Fritsch, Mark Petaccio, and current NHL-er Nick Cousins. As many, but not enough people have noted, that in the aftermath of the investigation (which was dropped by Canadian investigators given the unliklihood of a conviction, which is what oddly enough always seems to happen in cases like this), Dubas was famously flippant in his comments, and even went so far as to claim that his players were victims too:

“But as the manager of a junior hockey club, you’re entrusted with the lives of 16-20-year-olds,” said Dubas, who’s now completed two seasons in his present position. “We don’t judge how we went about things. We would never look back and say that we’re pleased or not. We just wanted to handle things the best we could. We supported the players as best we could with what they needed off the ice.”

“From the beginning, our team supported the legal process and law enforcement as they performed their investigation,” he added. “The scars remain for all of the people involved. But unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that.”

That language flatly shows zero concern for the victim in this case, and even goes so far as to paint his already shitty, entitled players as victims themselves in this scenario. It’s an all too familiar refrain within the self perpetuating rape culture of the Athletic Industrial Complex, and is particularly rampant in junior hockey, which puts children as young as 14 at center stage even more than high school football in Texas does with its frequently maladjusted young athletes. It preaches entitlement and it breeds behavior like this.

And now that Keefe has ascended to the Leafs’ head coach after a stint (and a championship) in the AHL with Toronto’s affiliate Marlies, it’s behavior like this that deserves much closer scrutiny. While many were praising Dubas’ hire of Hayley Wickenhiser last summer in a player development role as a progressive and forward thinking move for a hockey organization, in the face of Keefe’s promotion it simply feels like window dressing, a bone to be thrown to the masses to chew on while all of this seedy behavior gets ignored and enabled. Dubas may look the part of the boy genius, right down to glinting smile and faux-nerd glasses, but make no mistake, he absolutely does not give a shit about any kind of actual progressivism as evidenced by his words and actions when pressed, and also by bringing on Sheldon Keefe and all his baggage at any point possible. He clearly only needs the appearance of it, and if the league or sport as a whole actually gave a shit about any of this, they’d call him on it repeatedly. But they’re too concerned if Mike Babcock made his rookies make ranked lists of the most hard working teammates, and if Keefe actually wins with this talented group on the ice, all of this will be shouted down from everyone in Canada anyway.


It was only a couple years ago that the reigning thought about the Leafs was that their blue line would hold them back (everyone in Toronto can conveniently forget the goalie on command in amazing fashion). They clearly have the forwards for a Cup run, perhaps the most talented grouping in the league. And yet for a few years now the Leafs have given up way too many chances and shots. This year’s been a little different, as they’re in the middle of the pack in the amount of attempts and chances they give up. Their penalty kill has let them down, but at evens they’ve been just about where you want to be.

A couple years ago, the Leafs blue line was a bit slow. But then they picked up Jake Muzzin last year. And Travis Dermott got more experience. And then this past summer, they made the big splash and shipped out problem child Nazem Kadri to Colorado for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. Barrie was supposed to be the missing piece, the third puck-mover they didn’t have who could keep the forwards from having to come all the way back in their own zone and could get them out in space more often where they’re beyond lethal.

About that…

On the surface, Barrie’s numbers don’t look too much worse than what he did in Denver. His Corsi-percentage is almost exactly the same as it was as an Avalanche last year. But do any digging and things have been a tire fire so far. Barrie’s xG% has dropped from 52.4% to 45.4% this year, and he’s lagging way behind the team rate. Moreover, Barrie provided scoring from the back end in Colorado. He had 14 goals each of the past two seasons and over 55 points as well. So far this year he only has five assists. Even worse, he’s not getting the looks he got earlier in his career either. He’s getting the same attempts at evens, but they’re from beyond three-point range, as his expected tallies and scoring chances are down either to one-third or one quarter of what they were in Denver.

It’s the same story on the power play, where he’s not getting as much time in Toronto, and his chances just aren’t as good as they used to be. So what gives?

It could be a matter of partner. In Colorado, Barrie spent most of his time with Ian Cole (BAYBAY!), who would just simply be a free safety for him and back him up in his forays. Now in Toronto, he’s playing with Jake Muzzin, who has a very similar game to Barrie’s. So it appears that Barrie is deferring to Muzzin, as Muzzin’s numbers are a little closer to what he’s done before. It’s not the best use of Barrie, but then again it might not be the best use of Muzzin to reverse it either. It’s only 17 games, and there’s plenty of time to see how they can get the best out of both, but it’s been a rocky start.

Maybe it doesn’t help that every Leafs defender aside from Morgan Rielly and his odd expressions is on audition. Every one of them is a free agent in the summer, and the Leafs can only keep a couple thanks to their cap situation. It could be a complete reset. Throw in the normal pressure of playing in Toronto, and you see what the issues could be.

It’s not what they pictured when they picked up Barrie, and Kadri killing it Colorado hasn’t helped the fans’ morale. Then again, nothing does. But the Leafs blue line went from one of the slower ones around to one of the more nifty ones in just two seasons, and the question is whether Mike Babcock the one to figure out how to maximize it. While there’s plenty of games, the Atlantic Division is just about as devilish as it gets and the last thing the Leafs want is to be staring up at the Bruins and starting the playoffs in Boston again. Figuring out this puzzle would be a major step.


Toronto Media And No One’s Ever Guilty – You could apply this to the fans as well. But no Leafs has ever done anything bad, except on the ice where apparently none of them have every done anything good. Auston Matthews mooning a female police officer in Scottsdale while she was in her car is just youthful indiscretion. Morgan Rielly was just saying “Rag it,” because that’s something people normally say. The list goes on. Oh, and their GM is a rape apologist. But don’t worry, it’s all a story about how the Leafs have matured and overcome their “mistakes.” Matthews is now more mature. Rielly cares so much about being a good person. Dubas doesn’t look like he got kicked out of Weezer. Give these guys a chance and they’ll give you 5,000 words a day on Cody Ceci’s play. Make them write about anything important off the ice and they clam up quicker than your grandparents stumbling upon porn.

Mike Babcock – Only because he’s going to be the Hawks coach no later than January. So see Cody Ceci getting 23 minutes a night, and be sure it’s going to be Maatta or de Haan getting more. It’s coming. You’ll see.

Toronto Media – Yeah, them again. Any Leafs fan who is willing to debase themselves gets a major TV deal. Dart Guy got a radio show. The dude with a dolls and his own piss collection who made videos for teenage girls got one. It’s a goddamn sickness up there.

Everything Else

“You’re not special. So who you foolin’?” – Axl Rose

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games. And really, that’s it. But for Leafs fans and media, it can’t be that simple. It has to mean something. Not just that, it has to epically mean something. Maybe even epically mean something. Because everything around the Toronto Maple Leafs has to be definitive or a referendum not just on the team, but on the entire sport and city and possibly society. Because to everyone associated with them in any way, the Leafs have to mean more. They can’t simply be just a hockey team, even though that’s what they are. They’re in Canada’s largest city, the only team there, and even though Canada is a vast nation they’ve dubbed themselves the epicenter and YOU WILL PAY ATTENTION. But it’s just not the case.

Take the opponent. Leafs Nation will have you believe that the Boston Bruins are some mythical monster conjured by some wizard twisted on quaaludes  specifically to keep the Leafs down. But it’s not really the case. In truth, lots of teams lose to the same team twice in a row. Sure, Leafs fans will rush to remind everyone about 2013 (Sir, this is the DMV), but this is a completely different Leafs team. Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri were the only Leafs on that team and this one, as we know Kadri wasn’t even really on this one. That series doesn’t matter to this team. Fuck, the Rangers and Capitals played way more than this recently in the playoffs, and you don’t hear anyone describing it as fucking Helm’s Deep, do you? The Leafs were lucky to be in those playoffs at all, certainly never deserved to be in a Game 7 against a pretty-close-to-a-juggernaut Bruins team. It has nothing to do with this one or the last one.

But that’s not enough for THE NATION. They can’t just lose to a team. They can’t just play a pretty decent series against a pretty good team and lose a coinflip Game 7, which they all are. Because that would just make them normal. That would make them just another team. And they’re not! Don’t tell us they’re not! These are the Leafs AND THEY ARE SPECIAL WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND DON’T YOU SEE THE LATEST DIPSHIT IN SOME RIDICULOUS OUTFIT OR DOING SOME JACKASS STUNT THAT JUST GOT HIRED BY SPORTSNET?! CLEARLY WE’RE SPECIAL! PAT MY HEAD!

But they’re not.

Take a look at how they view their best players. Any player can go two or three games without scoring. No one scores a perfectly regimented one goal every two games. But Auston Matthews goes to or three without a goal and he’s not just going through the normal course, it’s a referendum on if he can handle playing at the epicenter of the universe and on his entire being and oh god maybe that contract was a terrible idea! He’s fine, it’s not, it’s just what happens. Patrice Bergeron didn’t score last night either. I guess he sucks too? But no, that can’t happen to the Leafs, because it’s no epic enough. It must be an exquisite choke-job that can only happen to players under the unique crush of being a Leaf. A crush that they themselves created.

Take the bleating about 1967. But no one really cares, because it’s not like there’s been a ton of close calls and heartbreaks. There was basically one on a missed call in 1993, and if you don’t know about it Down Goes Brown has been writing a weekly column about it for 12 years. And all that would have done is set the Leafs up to get stonewalled by the Canadiens and specifically Patrick Roy just like the Kings did, and imagine how much more unbearable both fanbases would be if that happened. All the talk of THE WALL here wouldn’t be pointed south but north and everyone would be in agreement on it construction.

The Leafs and everyone around them want to be the pre-2004 Red Sox, but also the Lakers. But there’s no Impossible Dream, there’s no Fisk Homer, there’s no Bob Stanley in 1986 (which is who Sox fans really hate, or did, instead of Buckner). There’s no story. And there’s no winning tradition. They want both, and they aren’t either. The Leafs are scenery, but scenery that wants to chew itself.

It can’t just be that Mike Babcock isn’t quite the coach they’d hoped. He arrived as a messiah, because only messiahs take the Leafs job (even if they can’t make toast). And now he’s a relic, a dunderhead past his sell-by date. Could it just be he’ll get out exactly what the roster you give him is capable of, no more no less? Give him the best roster in the competition (’08 or ’09 Wings or Team Canada) and he’ll win it or come within inches of it. Give him a mediocre team (pretty much every Wings team after those) and he’ll get you mediocre results. Give him a bad one and they’ll be bad. Give him a pretty good one and he’ll get you a loss against another pretty good team. But no, it can’t be that easy in Toronto. He must’ve lost something, or Toronto did something to him, or he’s been replaced by a collection of hyper-intelligent roaches wearing a Babcock suit a la MIB.

Kyle Dubas must be a genius…because he figured out to sign the most prized free agent in years? Keen strategy. But now if he doesn’t go out and bring PK Subban or Drew Doughty home (and I suppose there’s a symmetry to a rape-apologist acquiring a rapist) he won’t just be another GM who can’t get his team over the hump. He’ll be The Great Miss, the Great Lie Of Modernity, The One Who Let Us Down.

Even the Leafs playoff series drought isn’t that much. 15 years is a while, but it isn’t unheard of. The Panthers have a longer one, in fact. The Islanders had a longer one. Until this season the Avs were working on a 10-year drought. The Sabres haven’t won a series in 12. While it’s certainly one of the worst streaks around, it doesn’t stand on its own. Like just about anything else concerning the Leafs, if you really look beyond the noise.

It can just never be simple. This loss means that there have to be massive changes and new directions and severe internal study and possibly a few defenestrations. But we didn’t learn anything new about the Leafs. We knew they didn’t have a very good defense and a shaky goalie when things really mattered. Why’d they lose? Because they couldn’t keep the Bruins best players on a leash and then their goalie spit up a bad goal or two in Game 7. Which is what teams with bad blue lines and questionable playoff goaltending do. It doesn’t need to be decoded in the stars or a team on NASA engineers. It’s an easy fix, if you can find the players. But no, that explanation won’t do for a blue-clad mob that has to be more important than everyone. Their problems are bigger, don’t you see, and you wouldn’t understand. You’re not here, you don’t know what it means, you can’t, you won’t, it’s just different here.

It’s not, though. The Leafs are just a team. A pretty good one struggling a bit to take the last step. Happens a lot. Happens to most. Maybe they’ll get there, maybe they won’t. What it won’t be is unforeseen or unheralded or unparalleled. Nothing about the Leafs is. They may scream different, but it’s the truth.



Everything Else

At some point we’re going to have to rename the team in Toronto “The Poochies,” because it seems the hockey world can’t spin unless we check in on the Leafs first. Only after they’ve been bookmarked is everything allowed to continue in its normal fashion.

In case you somehow have just the right type of noise cancelling headphones that pick out the exact frequency of loudmouths in their mom’s basement drinking their own piss, the Leafs have lost four of five. That’s after going 6-1-1 in their last eight, but we have to ignore that fact because it doesn’t convey the right state of panic everyone clad in blue needs you to know they’re in. In those four losses, two were unsightly as they were to the Hawks and Senators, and the other two were to the Lightning and at the Predators last night, which happens. Sandwiched in there is a pretty comedy-sketch of a win against the Flyers where they gave up six goals.

26 goals surrendered in five games isn’t exactly thrilling our confidence inducing, but pretty much everyone has a stretch like that (or if you’re the Hawks, a month or two). Before this rupture of a defensive artery the Leafs were about 10th in the league in GA/g, at 2.85, and now have risen all the way to 3.00 which ranks them 16th. Right behind the Penguins, and also ahead of the Capitals and Sharks who are considered Cup contenders by some or most.

More importantly, the only games the Leafs have looked truly second best in were the ones against Tampa, which is an affliction 29 other teams have, and the first 30 minutes against the Hawks, which isn’t acceptable. What the Leafs are really going through is Freddy Andersen having a Game 7 spasm in March. Maybe that’s scary, but it shouldn’t be unexpected.

If it took these five games for the Toronto media to figure out their team sucked defensively, then I don’t know what to tell them. The Leafs rank 29th in shots against at even-strength, and 26th in scoring chances against. This was all masked when Andersen was near Vezina level, and that mask fell off with a ground-shaking thud when his level dropped.

While those with press passed decked in blue have gone all gaga for Morgan Rielly’s counting stats or Jake Gardiner’s impending free agency, they tried to fool themselves into thinking this blue line was any good. It never was, and that hasn’t changed in the past five games just because they gave up 39 shots to the Hawks (what?).

The blame is going to Mike Babcock, but he seemingly is doing what only available open to him, and that’s playing as fast and loose as the Leafs can to try and impose their forwards on almost every other team that can’t match them. That’ll lead to bad weeks every so often. Yes, using Ron Hainsey a lot is a weird choice, but again, the options aren’t exactly flowing especially with Gardiner hurt. There are actually Leafs fans clamoring for Justin Holl, because if you’re a Marlies legend it obviously means you’re a celestial being that only Toronto residents can recognize.

It’s really no different than the mewling about the playoff format, which will see the Leafs turned into a party hat by the Lightning in the second round at best. I’ve never understood what the difference between losing there or the third round would be, and even under the old system the Leafs couldn’t really avoid Tampa in the second round anyway. Either you’re good enough or you’re not.

But Toronto’s problem is everyone’s problem, or at least they’re going to make sure that it is. At least when the Yankees and Red Sox’s following turn their angst over their sixth-inning reliever into national news, they have the jewelry to back it up. But the Leafs use that vacuous trophy case as just another reason to amplify their noise across the land, because this is a crisis that must be solved after all.

There has been nothing new learned about the Leafs in the last week and a half, other than Andersen was never going to be around .930 for a whole season consistently. Perhaps the pain for Leafs fans is what they shielded their eyes from since September finally couldn’t be ignored anymore, and they’re just mad at themselves.

I eagerly await a first-round flameout followed by a Babcock-Quenneville switch, and then see what Q does with this blue line with no new additions. We have plenty of evidence that he can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and I wonder how Toy Boy would handle seeing Trevor van Riemsdyk getting second-pairing assignments. It’ll be excellent theater.

Everything Else


RECORDS: Hawks 30-30-9   42-22-5



THE ABYSS: Pension Plan Puppets 

During the Hawks first “streak,” it was obvious they were benefitting from a softening of the schedule. Even when they played barely real teams, they were simply outclassed. We don’t know if this is a new “streak” yet, three in a row hardly constitutes that, but whatever it is is unlikely to continue tonight. The Hawks are playing one of the few REAL-ASS teams in the league, and we know how that’s gone. And they’re facing one that’s probably going to have an edge/snarl to it.

The Leafs had something of a “test” on Monday, and they got absolutely horsed by the Lightning at home, 6-2. If they had won that game or even been close, you might be hopeful of catching them with their focus elsewhere. Probably no such luck tonight. Maybe if the Bruins had beaten the Jackets last night and moved six points ahead of the Leafs, they would have decided there’s nothing left to play for and would have spent the last 13 games looking at their watch. But with a four-point gap and a game in hand, the Leafs can reasonably think that home-ice is still on the table and worth chasing (which is debatable). So the combination of frustration and motivation should have the Leafs antennae up, which is hardly good news.

There’s also the small matter of Morgan Rielly, which shouldn’t matter but will in the sense that he will get a standing ovation from the frothing, rich aristocracy that fills the Whatever It’s Fucking Called Now Center, because…he might…not have…used a homophobic slur? They won’t know why, they’ll just clap like the trained seals all fans become in situations like this. Either way, he and the Leafs will be happy to have a game to play to distract from whatever the last two days were. All of this does not add up to a pleasant night for the Hawks.

And even without all that, this is a team so far beyond the Hawks you wouldn’t want to drive it. In games against the league’s penthouse residents, the Hawks have generally been embarrassed. The Lightning have dribbled their head like a basketball twice. So have the Sharks. The Jets took them seriously for like a combined 12 minutes and got three wins out of it. They were with the Bruins in South Bend when the Bs were in their worst stretch, and then nowhere close in Boston. They’re 0-3 against the Flames. It’s not an enviable record.

And though they may finish third in their division. and though their media and fans refuse to shut up about anything, this is still an unholy offensive force. John Tavares has 76 points, and he’s the second center. There are three lines here better than the Hawks can muster with one, and when they get rolling no one can live with it (except Tampa, apparently). The Hawks were able to put up six on this team in the home opener because they got a look at Garret Sparks. They’ll find no such refuge here. The Leafs will want a recovery from Monday, which means Andersen, who’s been one of the better goalies in the league.

If the Leafs have a weakness it’s a defense that still is short, even with Jake Muzzin, but you have to get the puck first which is the real trick. Sure, if the Hawks can get DeBrincat or Kane or Saad or Toews bearing down on Hainsey or Zaitsev or whoever they might find some joy, but getting to those spots takes more than a smile. It’s also a beat-up blue line as both Gardiner and Dermott are out.

For the Hawks, shouldn’t be too many changes. Crawford will start, and the lines should look the same (go pound, John Hayden). The expectations for this one should be nil. If the Hawks can get a win in Montreal against a Canadiens team fighting it, this trip will be a success. After that, it’s the Canucks, Flyers, and a home-and-home with the Avs. Basically it would be set for the Hawks to perform one last death rattle if they get out of Canada alive.

And if not, they are who we through they were anyway.


Game #70 Preview Suite



Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Here’s something you’re not told a lot these days. Mike Babcock teams have won three playoff series in nine years. Everyone knows that Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in the league. But what this post presupposes is…maybe he isn’t?

You may think the medals cabinet in the Babcock house prove that he is. Except he’s got one Cup with one of the better rosters assembled in the past 15 years. And another Final with that same roster. There was the J.S. Giguere-engineered appearance with the Ducks, but that Ducks team didn’t even win a division. And sure, there are two gold medals. Then again, try and not win a gold medal with the talent at disposal in those Olympics. You could probably win one with the players left off those rosters if you really knew what you were doing. Let’s say the record isn’t as clean as you might think.

Sure, it’s not Babcock’s fault the Wings got old, Johan Franzen got hurt, and it turned out Ken Holland might have been just as born on third. Still, you’d have to ask what Wings team truly overachieved in his time there. The one that nearly toppled the Hawks in 2013? That would be the only argument. Every other team finished near the bottom of the playoff picture and were similarly dismissed.

So to the Leafs. His first playoff team there was a shiny new toy, and no one really minded a defiant exit to the regular season-best Capitals. But should the Leafs really have been losing to the Bruins last year? You could argue it was just goalies, as Frederik Andersen did his usual Game 7 scream at his shoes and Tuukka Rask merely had to remain upright. But look at the rosters. The Bruins were, and are, basically one line. The Leafs have been able to sport two or three for three seasons now, especially this time.

Which means Babcock will have an awful lot riding on this first-round matchup. Sure, there was no catching the Lightning this year. Maybe home ice will matter and maybe it won’t. But another first-round capitulation? There would be serious questions to be asked about the Leafs coach.

On the surface, there seems little more Babcock can do. This is the second straight season the Leafs are #3 in goals for, and with his kind of firepower that’s where they should be. They’re just off the top-10 defensively. Metrically, they’re one of the best offensive teams in the league. Babcock had clashed with his team last year about too-defensive gameplans, but seemed to let the leash out the second half of last year. Certainly their offensive marks suggest same.

The only quibble you can lodge is that defensively, they’ve needed Andersen to be pretty spectacular most nights. When it comes to expected goals against, the Leafs are 21st. But thanks to Andersen, they have the 4th-best save-percentage at evens. Babcock made his name on defensive solidarity, and won a Cup with Chris Osgood to prove it. On the other side, the way the game is now you do have to sometimes just let it out and hope your goalie bails you out. And Babcock has this blue line to deal with. It’s just not that good. Throwing everything forward and trying to keep it away from that defense as often as possible is the only way, even if it leaves gaps.

But this is Toronto, and no one’s going to want to hear about metrics and attempts-share if the Leafs don’t get to four on the playoff wins counter for a third straight season. And the Leafs may think they have all the time in the world, but contracts say they don’t. When Mitch Marner’s contract is signed this summer, the Leafs will start to lose a piece here and there instead of adding them. This team might be as loaded as they get, and certainly next year is probably it.

This is a twitchy fanbase and an even twitchier media. There’s also a coach with three rings to Babs’s one, who is from not too far away, just sitting at home right now. He’s about the only name that anyone would consider replacing Mike Babcock with. Unfortunately for Babcock though, he is unemployed. If the Leafs can’t find their way past the Bruins again, you can be damn sure the wind is going to whisper, “Q.”

Everything Else

We only wish it was Grand Theft Auto. Most of the people we find for this don’t want to be identified because either they’re people looking for them, don’t want to be associated with us, or both. This is yet another case. Dark things lurk in the musty corners of Twitter, and we found this one called Zubes. Follow him @the_Zubes…if you love the absurd. 

While we’re sure you’re basically in a state of hysteria all the time with the rest of Leafs Nation, tell us why this blue line will be better than we think.
– It starts with addition by subtraction. Prior to the first game of the season I can admit that I didn’t know what an Igor Ozhiganov was. BUT, from the same line of thinking that brought you, “We need to get rid of Matt Stajan even if it means taking on Dion Phaneuf” and “We need to get rid of Dion Phaneuf even if it means we get literally nothing” and “We need to get rid of Phil Kessel even if it means we are gift-wrapping Pittsburgh two Cups”, they needed to get rid of Roman Polak, even if it meant throwing a random collection of vowels on the bottom pairing.
Ultimately, the answer to your question comes down to Jake Gardiner. You’re either a “Jake Gardiner is better than you are giving him credit for” or you’re “Jake Gardiner isn’t as bad as you’re saying he is.” The issue this year is that he eventually has to get paid and no matter what he gets it’ll be the wrong amount. Every year around the deadline Maple Leafs fans convince themselves the team is about to cash in on the forward depth (we’re the only team with good young forward prospects – the AHL team is almost TOO talented) and add a difference maker back there to ease the load on everyone’s back. Having already pushed so many chips into the middle with the Tavares move, the shouts to do that very type of trade will be louder than ever and I think most of us are assuming this is the year something along those lines actually happens.
If they don’t make any moves though? Oh, we’ll just add a random AHL defenceman. The Marlies are so good, man.
Also, why we’re at it, why Fredrik Andersen won’t shit a chicken in a Game 7 again. If he has a major dip in the regular season would the Leafs think about going to get someone else?
– Similar to the Jake Gardiner split, a lot of people decided to stake their reputations on Freddie (we call him Freddie because it makes him sound more Canadian) being very slightly above average last year while taking more shots than Ed Belfour before he tries to bribe a cop with a billion dollars. A lot of people are going to hope that the answer to question one will help out here in question two, but I have very little faith. The brain boys in charge seem to be all hyped up on blog posts that explain to rubes “Puck possession is all that matters and goaltending is unpredictable, no we aren’t just saying that because it is hard to quantify”, but count me in the camp with basically no faith in the goaltending. They just let two reasonably okay backups go on waivers (Wow, the whole league wants to gobble up players that couldn’t crack this roster, what a blessing to have so much talent) so I think the powers that be have more faith – way too much faith – in him than I do. It will end in tears, especially when the same problems are lingering on the blue line and crease come deadline time and all that ends up happening is a deal for a 4th line centre.
Backup goalie Garrett Sparks (with a name like a YouTube star) cried the first time he played a game here because he’s a local, so expect his leash to be longer than you would think from the average backup.
Are the problems between Auston Matthews and Mike Babcock real? Will Babs finally take off the tire chains for a team with this much firepower?
– Much like Roman Polak, the first thing noted NJPW weeb Kyle Dubas had to do with the forward group is take away Babs’ toys and force him to not play absolute plugs like Matt Martin and Leo Komarov for half the game. I think the 5-on-5 lines will remain a mix of things like “Tyler Ennis and Zach Hyman on lines with the two best players” but the powerplay units should be as legit as they come. Failing to be a top powerplay team this year would be an unanswerable failure.
More than one person that is closer than I am to the team has whispered that most of the young guys just sort of roll their eyes at Babcock, but does anyone under 25 in the NHL really like their coach? Dubas is letting them grow beards and wear whatever number they want, so the hope is that having a “successful older cousin that talks to you about emo at Thanksgiving and tags you in memes on instagram” type matters to them more than the military dad that yells at you in the car on the way home from your games.
How does this whole William Nylander thing end?
Baldness. And I think Dreamboat Willie will end up around $7M x 6 or so, but it won’t happen for another few weeks. Also, William is starting to lose the wings of his hair first, so he will keep it long so people don’t see how thin his hair is getting. It will be buzzed / shaved before whatever contract he signs is over.


Game #3 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build


Everything Else

I woke up this morning slightly surprised that the Earth hadn’t been thrown slightly off its axis, or the weather patterns changed, or some other global-plus shift, by the entire Toronto area sinking into the core of the Earth at some point last night. And I’m sure the greater Toronto population was even more surprised the world kept spinning despite their demands that it stop to observe the collapse of the Leafs.

What shouldn’t have been surprising is how any of it went down. This is how it was going to be, and the more I think about it given how much the world’s troll Boston sports is, they gave us Barf-Fucking-Stool after all, I become more and more confident that the Bruins did this on purpose. They could have wrapped this up in five. They could have blown the Leafs out in the 1st period of Game 7. But knowing they could score at will against the Leafs defense and especially Freddie Andersen in a Game 7, they probably thought it would most entertaining to do it this way. They even teased it by going down 4-1 in Game 5 and nearly coming back. That’s storytelling at its best, folks.

I never really bought into the whole East Coast bias thing fully, because I figured if it was your job you’d stay up to watch games on the West coast. After all, where the fuck do sportswriters have to be before 10am? But clearly they never did, because the way the entire Leafs Nation tried to sell themselves, and then did, on Freddie Andersen quite frankly wreaks of a cult that should be put on every watchlist by every government in the world. It’s not like there’s a small sample size on this. He’d basically spit it in every playoff series he’d played, including Game 7 meltdowns in ’15 and ’16. And yet there they were on whoever the fuck sponsors whatever the fuck the HNIC pregame show is called telling us everything was right in the world because Andersen was now playing four inches closer to the crease or something. If you watched closely enough you could see Kelly Hrudey’s brain spilling out of his ear while Elliote Friedman wondered what he’d done in a previous life to be chained to this desk of jackasses and nincompoops.

Not that Andersen got any help. Jake Gardiner has always been “a guy,” and if he wasn’t covered by the biggest media group in the league every night you wouldn’t be able to tell him apart from the guy in line in front of you at 7-11. Except that guy would probably stand a better chance of remaining in front of you. Gardiner’s game last night was surrealist performance art to a level that even Dali looked upon it and remarked, “Good God what the fuck is that?” Shockingly, Roman Polak couldn’t clean up the mess either. Is now a good time to mention that Mike Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series in five years? And that one came against the Ducks in a Game 7, so does that even count? No, it doesn’t. But hey, give him miles the best roster in either league or international play and there’s at least a decent chance he won’t fuck up royally while boring the ever loving shit out of you.

But in the end, this is really what Leafs fans and media want. You can’t find a group that desires more to be both the pre-2000 Yankees and Red Sox. They demand you pay attention to them at all times, while also feeling sorry for them. They must have you recognize they are the smartest fans in the league while also acting like the dumbest and most deranged. This is a fandom that launched a nutcase filming videos in front of jars of his own piss into a cult hero. They want you to recognize their history while also bemoaning it as the reason they’ll never be happy. They have Canadiens fans’ smugness without any of the success (even if the Habs’ success is mostly bullshit as well, as a majority of their Cups came when they gamed a system in a league comprised of six teams that were 90% drunk truck drivers that simply got lost and they tossed sticks and gear at).

Leafs fans demand you witness their blood-letting, which I assume was the only purpose of Maple Leafs Square. Whereas the Jets used to have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth in their arena, the Leafs should hang one off a Vietnamese self-immolating monk. Except the only thing Leafs fans are protesting is their own stability. To hear them tell it they’re the love children of Job and Sisyphus.

They get no help from their media, a group of idiots convinced of their superiority simply because of where they live. By the time you read this, or not too long after, you can bet some columnist will have connected last night’s loss to the atrocity in the Toronto burbs on Monday. Speaking of which, someone should have told that misogynistic, twisted, deranged fucko before he got in that van that if you can’t get laid in Toronto all you have to do is film a bunch of videos in front of all your toys, or ones of you showcasing your “NHL-level” ball-hockey skills on some playground while children who just wanted to get on the swingset that you closed off cry in the background, or produce a chart that shows how in fact Frank Corrado would have won a Hart by now and the strangest women in the world will write fanfic about you. Better yet, introduce all of Incel Toronto to Freddie Andersen and tell him it’s Game 7. Everyone scores!

The question is really how they got this way, because it’s not like they do this every year. Caps fans may be intolerable vampire-goths now but at least they snuff it to the team they hate most every goddamn year. The Leafs do this like a couple times a decade. There is no long stretch of heartbreak here, but you can bet Gardiner’s abstract pigeon pose leading to the winner last night will have yearly columns written about it until we all spin off into the sun.

None of this will change, given that Leafs media and fandom alike would show up with various clubs and spikes if their beloved William Nylander was traded for any d-man that doesn’t asphyxiate himself. Actually, they’d just show up with giant print-outs of graphs and spreadsheets they made up themselves while their spouses pack up their belongings.

The knives have come out for Auston Matthews, as if he didn’t have Krejci and Bergeron and Chara up his ass all series. We can only hope that he signs exactly a four-year deal when his ELC is up and then hightails it for the border the exact minute he becomes a UFA. You know he already wants to.

Actually, no, that’s what THE NATION wants. They want to drive all their starts out of town so they have more excuses to try and pierce their own nipples with an ice pick in public. And they should never get what they want. And then they can retire #34 and put it next to #17 and #13 and #93 and have a nice grouping of players who never played in a Final while wearing blue.

Good riddance. And oh, the Raptors are going to get just far enough so that LeBron can once again waltz in to the ACC, lay it across your forehead while singing, “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head?” and walk out before you even know what happened. Go ahead and pretend to care about TFC. We know the truth.