Toronto Maple Leafs: Kyle Dubas must save Mike Babcock from himself

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Head coaches and general managers tend to work together closely, but it’s time for Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to save Mike Babcock from himself.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are still one of the top teams in the NHL, but Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes highlighted something that many fans have known for some time – Ron Hainsey should not be a top pairing defenceman.

Head coach Mike Babcock continually plays Hainsey as Morgan Rielly‘s partner on the top pair and his performances are starting to create problems for the team.

In the 2-0 road loss to the Coyotes, it was Hainsey’s wayward attempted clearance that set up the Western Conference team’s first goal.

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Throughout the game, Hainsey made a number of poor decisions that ended up with Coyotes players receiving the puck – keeping the Toronto Maple Leafs on the back foot.

Hainsey, at nearly 38 years old, is still a solid NHL player, but he should not be getting top pairing minutes anymore – especially after the Leafs gave up a first round pick and two prospects to bring in Jake Muzzin from the LA Kings.

Muzzin partnered with Rielly early on and the two looked solid together, with Muzzin using his physicality to compliment Rielly’s puck-moving skills and offensive tendencies.

Unfortunately for the pair, Babcock remains as stubborn as ever and continues to drop Muzzin down in favour of the rugged veteran.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have played 10 games since Muzzin’s arrival, in which the former Kings blueliner has averaged 18.39 on the ice – clocking up 186.35 total minutes.

Hainsey, meanwhile, has averaged 19.33 minutes on the ice, earning 195.30 in total – nearly a full minute higher per game and 10 minutes more than Muzzin in total.

During that 10-game spell, Muzzin has cracked the 20-minute mark just once (against the Montreal Canadiens), while Hainsey has achieved this FOUR times – against Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Montreal.

Babcock is arguably one of the greatest coaches in recent years, but his stubbornness is starting to affect his team negatively.

The Stanley Cup-winning coach spoke about how he liked seeing Hainsey partnered with Travis Dermott after Muzzin’s arrival – with the veteran helping to mentor the young blueliner and improve his defensive game.

But as quick as that, Hainsey is back with Rielly and holding down a top pairing role that seems perfect for Muzzin – and was the role he was acquired to fill.

This is where general manager Kyle Dubas needs to step in and make a move that forces Babcock into shifting his lines and finally move on from Hainsey.

Having a 37/38-year-old on your top pair isn’t going to continue to work. Having him as a third pairing veteran presence and mentor is the way that Hainsey should be utilised.

But as Babcock is seemingly refusing to give up on him, Dubas may need to send Hainsey packing in order for the Leafs’ head coach to see straight.

Hainsey has a modified no-trade clause, where he is required to submit a list of 15 teams that he does not want to be traded to.

This means at least half of the league could be negotiated with to take on Hainsey, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Teams such as the New York Rangers — if they aren’t on Hainsey’s list — could be interesting to work with.

The Rangers might be enticed to work on a deal that sees them take on Hainsey but also receive an asset in exchange for someone such as Adam McQuaid, who has been rumoured to be available recently.

Whoever is willing to listen, Dubas needs to make something happen and take away the one piece that Babcock can’t seem to let go of – no matter how poorly he performs on the top pairing.

If Babcock was willing to keep Hainsey on the bottom pair, then there’s no need to consider moving him, but it isn’t looking likely that this will ever come to pass for longer than one or two games.

Next. Leafs to open talks with Kapanen this week. dark

What do you think Leafs Nation? Should Dubas look to offload Hainsey by the deadline? What should the team’s defensive pairings look like? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.