“It’s a hard day.”
Although Mike Babcock signed a lucrative eight-year, $50-million contract to join the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015, that kind of payday won’t soften the blow for a motivated, passionate coach when he’s relieved of his job.
When the Maple Leafs announced they had dismissed Mike Babcock on Wednesday, the timing was at least a little curious. Though it came the day after the team’s sixth loss in a row, the Maple Leafs had already practised and Babcock had already addressed the media.
The speculation around Babcock’s future was running rampant, but the general feeling was that the next window for a decision to be made would come after Saturday’s game against Colorado. At that point, Toronto would have three days off before their next game. But still, we wonder if Babcock had an inkling something was going down after his now-former team left the ice this morning.
Brian Burke joined Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Writers Bloc to explain the protocol to follow when firing an NHL head coach.
“The protocol is you call a coach in – and if Shanny wasn’t on that trip and he showed up there, Mike would have known right away. It’s like when I walked into the Leafs office (when Burke was let go as Toronto’s GM) when they asked me to come in. I walked in and no one would make eye contact with me and I was like, ‘Oh boy, it’s me.’ So he would have known right away.”
In Burke’s tenure as Leafs GM from 2008-2013, he fired one coach during the season, relieving Ron Wilson in March 2012.
“Just like when I fired Ronny Wilson. I told him I needed to see him in Montreal. I wasn’t on that trip, but I flew up. He knew when he walked in the room. He said, ‘I already booked my flight to Hilton Head tomorrow.’ So [Babcock] would have known as soon as Shanny showed up.”
Fans will react to both sides of this – the decision to part with Babcock and replace him with Sheldon Keefe – but what we don’t get to see is what happens after a coach has been dismissed.
As for what happens after the management team breaks the news to its coach? It might be more straightforward than you think.
“Protocol is you tell him he’s been relieved. He probably would have got a ride back to the hotel, you wouldn’t go on the team bus. Or he was back at the hotel when they met with him. And you pack up your stuff, get a flight and go back home. So it’s a hard day for him.”
Now the Leafs move on with Keefe at the helm, but there’s a lot to figure out here. The fact remains they are in the middle of a listless losing streak, in the middle of a season that has been plagued by bad penalties, defensive breakdowns and a penchant for falling behind in games early.
The new coach will be tasked to get this thing back on track fast, as the Leafs rank 25th in the NHL by points percentage. If things continue to go badly, all eyes will quickly turn to the management team that fired Babcock and to the underperforming team.
“When you fire a coach, it’s an organizational failure and there’s a lot of blame to be distributed because you haven’t given him the best players,” Burke said. “Specifically, what I’d say in this case is you’ve got a roster construction issue which I’ve been harping on from Day 1. You’ve got a self-inflicted salary cap difficulty that really didn’t have to be as bad as it is. The backup goaltending situation has been a debacle…
“The players should take a ton of heat here, too,” Burke continued. “The players shouldn’t get a free pass on this. They let this coach down.”