TORONTO (Dec. 17) — Though Mike Babcock is decorated, highly–regarded (by most) and compensated more lavishly than any coach in National Hockey League history, his sh– house has no back door.
Once inside, you’re liable to decompose with the contents.
This was proven rather quickly upon Babcock’s deployment as coach of the Maple Leafs in May 2015. First on the “throne”: Phil Kessel. If not written into his contract, it was stated, rather emphatically, that Fast Phil would never see the light of day at training camp. The Leafs opened the Port–o–Let and dispatched Kessel to Pittsburgh, where he won the Stanley Cup and nearly the Conn Smythe Trophy. Next “in” were goalies Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer — neither of whom had a chance of returning this season. Lou Lamoriello donated Reimer to San Jose and rid the club of Bernier (to Anaheim) for a conditional draft pick. Though partially cap–related, Joffrey Lupul entered Babcock’s latrine late last season. He hasn’t yet emerged.
The most recent occupant has become rather a cause celebre. I was in Vancouver with the Leafs two weeks ago when local scribes breathlessly awaited word on whether former Canucks defenseman Frank Corrado would dress for Toronto’s lone visit to Rogers Arena. “No deal,” said Babcock. Earlier this week, my one–time colleague at The FAN–590, David Alter, spoke with Corrado for the new sports website THE ATHLETIC. Good reporters induce athletes to open up, emotionally. And, David is a good reporter. Said Corrado:
It’s frustrating now. When you don’t get to play for a month and a half, and you’ve played in one game all year, it takes its toll on you mentally… it’s time to play… it’s time to have a career. I feel like the more I’m not playing, that’s food off my table. That’s kind of the way I see it right now. Everyone on our back end gets a chance to play except me. I’d love to play. I had a good camp. I put on ten pounds in the summer. I sacrificed a lot to earn a job here when there might not have been one for me… at the end of the day, the coach is the one who makes the lineup and if the coach doesn’t like you, then you’re not going to play. And that’s where I’m at right now.
FRANK CORRADO… AND HIS “HOME” THIS SEASON WITH THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.
There are several ways with which to view this circumstance.
At one point while chatting with Alter, Corrado acknowledged that “at least I’m in the NHL.” Which is pertinent, given the one–year, $600,000 contract he signed with the Maple Leafs last July. Many of us would welcome such a pay–day. Conversely, the Woodbridge, Ont. native feels trapped. And, why shouldn’t he? Babcock has circulated eight defensemen during the Leafs first 29 games. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, Matt Hunwick (when healthy), Connor Carrick and Roman Polak dress virtually every night. Martin Marincin is the swing–man… Frank Corrado the forgotten man. Marincin’s 16 games are the fewest among those that Babcock considers for work. Corrado has suited up only once, earning a minor penalty and 16:24 of ice–time in a 4–1 loss at Pittsburgh, Nov. 12. So, yes, he is firmly entrenched in the coach’s bog.
It is also relevant to point out that Corrado has wrung up an abhorrent minus–22 in 68 NHL games with Vancouver and Toronto. Barking over the lack of ice–time, therefore, may not be a sustainable position. Such a ghastly number would lead many–a–rearguard to the Port–o–Let. The Leafs could be nice to Frankie and put him on waivers, exposing him to a rival club that may deploy him more regularly. Babcock, however, understands how extraordinarily lucky his team is with respect to injury — not having sustained a critical absence thus far in 2016–17. Marincin is now sidelined 4–to–6 weeks with a back ailment. That elevates Corrado into the No. 7 “swing–man” role… unless the Leafs choose to elevate a blue–liner from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. So, the club probably isn’t anxious to dispose of a defenseman already on the roster.
Babock does have his detractors — none more infamously (or vocally) than former NHL blue–liner Mike Commodore, who twice embarked on an epic Twitter rant last season while the Leafs were losing a game:
3-0 nothing Babs you posing arrogant piece of sh–. Welcome back to the rink where everyone that met you hates you.
Two things I know. The Wings are winning this game. And the biggest piece of sh– on the planet is Mike Babcock.
Commodore lashed out as a result of Babcock’s apparent deception during the 2011–12 season, when the veteran skated in only 17 games for the Detroit Red Wings. Still, the profane tirades were unbecoming of a respected NHLer that twice grew his hair uncontrollably during the playoffs for the benefit of cancer patients. While playing with Conference–champions Calgary in 2004 and Carolina in 2006, Commodore drew widespread admiration for waiting until after the Stanley Cup final to have his reddened locks sheared.
MIKE COMMODORE — AMAZON–LIKE DURING THE 2006 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS WITH CAROLINA.
Babcock knows what he wants from a player. He has a notoriously–short leash for those that do not meet his expectation. That doesn’t make him a bad guy; in fact, it probably enhances what he accomplishes behind the bench. But, we can also empathize with someone encountering Frank Corrado’s dilemma.
Where even a gallon of Milk of Magnesia won’t allow for “escape”.
NEITHER SNOW, NOR RAIN, NOR SLEET….
This was a very tough and emotional week after spending time with my friend Ken Daniels, TV voice of the Detroit Red Wings, whose 23–year–old son, Jamie, died in Boca Raton, Fla. on Dec. 6. You don’t need to have children of your own to recognize such a dreadful, life–altering circumstance. My heart continues to wrench for Ken; for Jamie’s mother, Lisa, and for Ken and Lisa’s daughter, Arlyn, who has lost her only blood–sibling.
Ken summoned the courage and tenacity to return to work on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, calling the Red Wings’ 4–1 defeat against the L.A. Kings. Those (including my son) who watched part of the telecast were astonished at how well he adjusted… and understood how incredibly proud Jamie would be of his father.
Ken wears the headset again tonight when Anaheim visits Detroit.
Though I detest traffic and lousy weather as much as anyone, nothing was going to stop me from driving to Guelph on Friday afternoon and picking up Shane, my 20–year–old, for the Christmas break. I later saw my 16–year–old daughter Lauren at her mother’s house. And, I gave both my kids a tighter squeeze than usual.
WHEN PENGUINS FIRST LANDED
The Pittsburgh Penguins visit Toronto tonight for the 89th time — dating to a game at Maple Leaf Gardens 49 years ago this week. The expansion Penguins skated off with a 2–1 victory on Dec. 13, 1967. The program–cover and insert–story are shown above, as future Hall–of–Fame forward Andy Bathgate returned to the Gardens in a Pittsburgh uniform just more than 3½ years after helping Punch Imlach’s team win the 1964 Stanley Cup. Johnny Bower (Toronto) and Les Binkley were the goalies. The line–ups are here:
JOHNNY LOST HIS COOL…
During the first visit by the Penguins, Johnny Bower incurred the lone misconduct penalty of his lengthy NHL career for charging at referee Bob Sloan. Bower deployed his patented poke/sweep–check to knock the puck away from ex–teammate Bathgate on a second–period breakaway.
Toronto Star photographer Boris Spremo snapped this image of the ensuing argument: