There’s a fine line between good coaching and over-coaching. Look no further than Maple Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock. This hands-on control freak is on the verge of doing significant damage to Toronto’s brilliant sophomore winger Mitch Marner. No, not because Marner has been temporarily demoted to the fourth line this week, but rather because of the way Babcock tried to tweak Marner’s game during the summertime.
Much like a new bride who is bound and determined to change her husband once married, Babcock couldn’t leave well enough alone. On the one hand, Babcock believes it’s okay for a player like Zack Hyman to be a one-trick pony (good forchecker) and still share ice time on the team’s top line. On the other hand, even though Marner showed signs of becoming one of the most brilliant playmakers in the NHL today, Babcock decided to focus on what Marner can’t do, rather than what he can do.
So Marner was told he needed to be stronger. Why? With his speed and dexterity, he won more than his fair share of 50/50 loose puck opportunities. Marner was told he needed to stop passing so much. Why? In today’s all-speed-all-the-time NHL, the lack of time and space has made playmaking an almost lost art. Along comes a guy with Gretzky-like on-ice vision and Babcock suggests he abandon all of that in favour of shooting the puck more often. Marner was told his shot needed to be harder. Why? A well aimed medium-speed shot with sniper-like accuracy will win out over a reckless aimless howitzer nine times out of ten. Think not? Just watch Dion Phaneuf shoot the puck. Hard, yes. In the net? Hardly ever.
Marner’s brilliant offensive talents are based on pure instinct. It’s that instinct that makes people sometimes wonder if he has eyes in the back of his head. Thanks to Babcock, Marner is no longer just playing and reacting. Now he’s out there thinking, second-guessing his decisions every time the puck comes his way. Should he pass as his auto-pilot thought-process tells him to do, or should he listen to Babcock and fire away at the net?
The end-result is a player who is standing when he should be skating. A player whose indecision prevents him from reacting naturally. Slick saucer passes have turned into blatant turnovers. Well aimed shots on net have turned into last minute flicks that couldn’t break a pane of glass.
Mike Babcock is making the same coaching mistake that so many others have made in the past. He’s forgetting to let the dancers dance and the singers sing.