Change coming as Babcock looks to shake up Maple Leafs roster

Leafs coach Mike Babcock wasn't thrilled with his team's effort after being scored on early by the Coyotes, prompting a comeback that was a period too late.

TORONTO — Part of the impetus for change comes from having one lonely victory through eight games. A terrible second period against the Arizona Coyotes didn’t help matters either.

Now Mike Babcock is ready to shake things up.

It can’t be a comfortable time for 24-year-old centre Peter Holland, who appears to have lost his spot in the lineup to unheralded journeyman Byron Froese — a player with 135 fewer games of NHL experience that was taken 104 picks behind him in the 2009 entry draft.

Depending on the injury status of Tyler Bozak, Nick Spaling and Jake Gardiner, there’s even a chance Holland could find himself on waivers before the Leafs next play in New York City on Friday night.

There was an urgency to Babcock’s tone following a 4-3 loss to the Coyotes on Monday that dropped Toronto’s record to 1-5-2. He indicated that the biggest changes for his team would come at centre.

“I’m optimistic that Bozak and Spaling will make us a better hockey club; Froese is going to be in the lineup,” said Babcock. “We’re different down the middle already. We’re a better team.”

That seemed to leave Holland and Mark Arcobello on the outside looking in, with Nazem Kadri comfortably owning a spot on the top line.

Should all of Toronto’s injured players be ready to return against the Rangers as expected, the team will have to make a corresponding roster move to stay under the 23-man limit. Holland and Arcobello both need to clear waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League and a read of the tea leaves suggests that Holland’s grip on a spot is tenuous.

Not only was he scratched in Montreal over the weekend, but Babcock has been clear about the fact that ice time is an indicator of who he thinks is playing the best.

On Monday night, during a third period where the Leafs madly pushed to tie things up with Arizona, here’s how the centres were deployed: Kadri saw nine minutes on 11 shifts; Froese saw 4:54 on nine; Arcobello saw 3:33 on seven; and Holland saw 2:44 on five.

Keep in mind that it was just the second career NHL game for Froese, who was toiling away in the ECHL at this time last year before joining the AHL Marlies on a tryout in December. His standing in the organization has skyrocketed since.

Unprompted, Babcock raved about his play following a game where he went 11-6 in the faceoff circle, but was on the ice for three goals against and had the team’s lowest even-strength possession number.

“The positive in tonight’s game to me is 56 — real simple,” said Babcock, a reference to Froese’s sweater number. “Just faceoffs alone and compete alone. You’re going to be competitive if you’re going to be here. That’s it. It’s that simple.”

That comment seemed to point to Holland, who has previously had his competitiveness questioned by the coach. When asked about him prior to the Coyotes game, Babcock noted: “When you’re on a third or fourth line, you’re on a tryout every night.”

Holland sounded well aware of that fact during a brief exchange with a couple reporters following Monday’s morning skate.

Froese, meanwhile, was still beaming in the afterglow of his NHL debut. He indicated that the organization hadn’t told him much about his situation: “You know what, like my whole career, I’m just taking it day by day.”

By the end of the night it was clear that changes are in the air — with the precise details to be filled in soon. If Froese stays, one of Holland or Arcobello presumably has to be sent down … and Froese is definitely staying.

This is Babcock starting to shape the Leafs roster.

Even though they were once again let down by special teams and shaky goaltending, those issues can’t be corrected overnight. All the coach can hope for now is a higher level of effort than he saw during the second period against Arizona.

“I’ve never seen us compete at that level,” said Babcock. “So we’re not competing at that level. That’s not going to happen, we’re going to fix it.”

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