Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner demotion a message to the entire group

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Mitchell Marner
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Mitchell Marner /

At practice on Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock made a minor change switching Connor Brown and Mitch Marner in the lineup which has everyone buzzing.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs hit the ice for practice on Monday, there was a noticeable change to the lines at practice. Mitch Marner was skating on the fourth line alongside Matt Martin and Dominic Moore while Connor Brown occupied his spot with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk.

While Auston Matthews has been in the spotlight for his dominant play to start the season, Marner has been struggling to break out. While he has four points in five games and is a positive possession player, his line has struggled with defensive zone coverage. As a result, head coach Mike Babcock has sent a message to that group by moving the “younger player” off that line.

While many are looking at this change as a way to motivate Marner, it might actually be a subtle way for Babcock to send a warning to the veterans on the line. This is the exact quote that the Leafs coach used when asked about moving Marner off the line.

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If Babcock really wanted to send a message he could have easily benched Marner in favour of giving Josh Leivo a chance to play but it appears that he is not at that point yet. A lot of talk on the radio about Marner’s situation was in defence of the 20-year-old and for good reason.

If Marner was playing with Matthews or Nylander he might enjoy similar success, instead he is being asked to be the one to drive a line on the wing which is no walk in the park.

While Marner had his fair share of success with Bozak and JVR offensively last season, that line still faced similar issues defensively. Marner also saw a dip in offensive production but part of that was also a result of an illness that winger had to overcome.

Playing with Martin and Moore might actually benefit Marner and Brown might have to make more of an adjustment.  Nylander actually had a similar situation happen to him last season where he was demoted to the fourth line and it seemed to have lit a spark on him. Now it is Marner’s turn to take this as a learning moment. This move is also indicative of the effort by Brown the past week to earn a bump in the lineup which probably helped facilitate this change.

If Babcock is willing to put the lines in the blender, the Leafs may want to consider is experimenting Marner playing with Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri. That line is accountable defensively, can keep up with Marner’s skating ability and are capable offensive players. Leo Komarov would then move down to play with Bozak or on the fourth line.

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Again this is only a suggestion but one that the Leafs could consider if they want to maximize on Marner’s ability. It appears that Babcock realizes that the trio from last year do not have the same chemistry and maybe they can find a way to rediscover it or the team may need to go in another direction.