The Toronto Maple Leafs are happy to have made the decision to fire head coach Mike Babcock earlier this week, especially when new bench boss Sheldon Keefe got his first win in his first NHL game last night over the Arizona Coyotes.
After the contest, media wanted to know how certain players felt to have the chance to play for a new coach. Tyson Barrie got a lot of attention, seeing that he scored his first as a Leaf last night and commented:
“We had a lot of fun out there tonight,” said Barrie per The Athletic. “I think it showed. … It was almost like a fresh start. He was really positive and made a couple changes that I think helped us big time.
“I think (the changes are) a bit mental and a bit tactical. That style that we played tonight, you’re going to see a lot more of it.”
As insider James Mirtle of The Athletic reported on the Leafs’ new era on Friday, he kicked things off with a strong statement, using the word from star player Auston Matthews.
That was the word Auston Matthews went straight to when asked what felt different, with a new coach behind the Maple Leafs bench for the first time in his NHL career.”
There was always a sense that something was off between Matthews and his former head coach. Babcock would often leave him on the bench at crucial moments of the game and give him less time on ice than other players.
There was even speculation that a feud might be ongoing when it was reported last summer that Babcock travelled to Arizona to speak directly with Matthews during the offseason. Both men denied a feud; Babcock had described their bond more as a father-son relationship than a buddy-buddy relationship, but that didn't mean he gets the final say in everything that is done.
Maybe the freedom comes from there. Matthews might feel Keefe knows how great of a player he is and will trust him on the ice in key moments to rack up wins for Toronto.