article

Report: The reason behind the Babcock-Matthews controversy revealed

We finally have an answer, and it's very interesting.

Share on Facebook

Something that has been on most people's minds, if they've been paying attention anyway, is why Auston Matthews isn't being given superstar ice time. Why has he been a main stay on the second power play unit, getting less minutes in that situation than most of his peers around the National Hockey League?

He is one of the best 5-on-5 goal scorers around today - which should make him an even deadlier force with that extra space on the man advantage.

Still - his role has been heavily limited.

Then you look at Roman Polak's usage. Why is he depended on so much more than the up and coming young defensemen on the team? His penalty killing numbers are actually not good at all - in fact, a recent study proved that the team has a better penalty killing efficiency with him off the ice. 

We dug into that here.

Well, The Athletic's James Mirtle might have a fairly elegant answer for all this, and it actually makes a lot of sense. If he's right, which we suspect he is, this explains a lot about Mike Babcocks's strategies, and could pay off well when the playoffs come around.

Mirtle explains how their sports science team, led by Dr. Jeremy Bettle, has impacted the player usage on the team. The idea is to keep the younger and better players as fresh as possible for when the post-season comes around.

For a lot of them, the rigours of an 82-game schedule is hard to get used to at this level, and this strategy keeps them energized when the games matter the most.

"Special teams really show it. The Leafs have hardly any players playing both special teams; it's almost always one or the other unit. That's about conserving energy as much as it is about aptitude for PP or PK," Mirtle writes.

"So is the fact that Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey take the toughest matchups at even strength but get fewer minutes than Gardiner and Zaitsev.

"This kind of usage is new for the Leafs. I've covered them a decade and never seen them have so many 20-minute practices and optional skates. They call days off that aren't scheduled all the time. There's a real mantra of “rest” around the organization.

"That's only Babcock in the sense that he's bought into what Bettle — who came via the NBA — is preaching."

Matthews fits directly into this idea. Why suck him dry of his energy by overplaying him all year, when they can limit his usage so long as it doesn't damage the team's hopes of making the playoffs.

He'll be made much more effective when the post-season rolls around.

Mirtle believes in the probability that players like Matthews will get rested (made a healthy scratch) towards the end of the season if the playoff picture is clear. That would further reinforce the idea that Babcock is following sports science tactics to maximize the potential of his team throughout both the regular and post season.