Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock may find himself in unfamiliar territory.
The highly decorated and highly respected head coach has gone through his career in the National Hockey League without ever truly facing the pressure of being unseated from his position, but this upcoming NHL season may change that for Babcock. On a recent episode of the Steve Dangle Podcast, Sportsnet's NHL insider Chris Johnston was asked about Babcock's future under current Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and Johnston gave a somewhat surprising answer given Babcock's status in the league.
"This will be the season where his job becomes on the line if things go wrong, I don't think there's any question about that," said Johnston. "There was more than a little smoke gathering at the end of the year that things were not all rosy in that relationship with Kyle Dubas. In terms of management's faith in him as a coach, ultimately they have chosen to bring him back. But they've also retained Sheldon Keefe with the Toronto Marlies and further to that they hired Dave Hakstol to be one of his assistants who coached the last few years with the Philadelphia Flyers."
Although Johnston did not come right out and say that Hakstol had been brought in to replace Babcock, he did mention the possibility of Dave Hakstol being a safety valve for general manager Kyle Dubas should things go south under the current head coach.
"To me at minimum suggests that he could be, in the short term, interim kind of situation because he's someone that's handled that in the past."
There were a few instances last season in which Mike Babcock and Kyle Dubas appeared to butt heads publicly. Notably after the Jake Muzzin trade Mike Babcock made comments on Muzzin that seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the move a bit, a situation that was mentioned specifically by Johnston as a moment of tension last season. It has to be said that it was not Kyle Dubas who hired Mike Babcock as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and when you add that to potential clashes with players like Auston Matthews over ice time, Mike Babcock may be wearing out his welcome for the first time in his NHL career.
Johnston stated that he believes Babcock will have to show a more united front with Dubas this season, as well as results, or things could look very different behind the Maple Leafs bench.
"I think there is a lot of pressure on Mike Babcock."