Toronto Maple Leafs' president Brendan Shanahan on Mike Babcock firing: 'The attention to detail' was missing

Sporting News

Brendan Shanahan brought Mike Babcock to the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2015, so he felt it was only right he was there in person in Arizona on Wednesday to tell the head coach he had been fired.

“It wasn’t an easy conversation to have, it wasn’t pleasant," Shanahan, who flew to Glendale for the in-person meeting with Babcock that included general manager Kyle Dubas, told reporters during a brief media availability. "Days like today are not. But it was what we felt important for the club. Once you realize there is something that you should do and have to do, that it’s best to act on it.”

Babcock's ouster came in his fifth season as the Leafs' head coach, a change Shanahan said he and Dubas "felt was in the best interest of the club." Toronto, with a record of 9-10-4 and 22 points, is currently on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Shanahan, who played for Babcock during the coach's first season with the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06, downplayed notions that Dubas and Babcock clashed over how the team has been built — emphasizing that the team's commitment to starting this season strong was "100 percent pure and honest."

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“We know how competitive the league is and we know how difficult it is each and every night," he told reporters. "When you think that you know what the right decision is you have to act on it. I think that waiting at this point would have just been the wrong thing."

Shanahan called what's been missing from the team, currently amid a six-game losing streak, "the magic question" and said the "key elements" of Toronto's game have gone missing in action.

"We’re mistake-prone on defense, the attention to detail is not there," he said. "Even the explosive offense our team was known for has been missing for a while now."

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The Maple Leafs now turn to new head coach Sheldon Keefe, who has coached the franchise's AHL affiliate since 2015-16. The 39-year-old former NHL forward won the Calder Cup with the Marlies in 2018 and has watched over one of the AHL's best teams in that time span.

Shanahan emphasized that the Maple Leafs' upper management still believes in the team's roster as is and said they remain optimistic the team will turn it around with Keefe in charge.

“I think Sheldon’s earned it," Babcock said of Keefe's track record. "The amount of players that play on the Toronto Maple Leafs that have played for Sheldon, with Sheldon, with the Marlies, the job he’s done in developing players for us that were some early draft picks some very late-round draft picks.

"I think if you look around at lots of options . . . and you look at someone whose been in the organization for quite some time now and had a lot of success and won a championship and knows these players very very well — it’s a situation where he’s earned it.”

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