After all the rumours and all the speculation, the unthinkable has finally happened. The Leafs have fired 2008 Stanley Cup winner Mike Babcock.

Babcock was hired by the Maple Leafs in May 2015. At the time, the Leafs were in an aggressive rebuild, but Babcock seemed up for the challenge and took the job along with a very lucrative long-term contract.

The first season went as expected as Babcock’s Leafs finished with 69 points in 82 games, good for last place in the NHL. The good news about this was that the Leafs were guaranteed to have one of the top picks in the 2016 draft.

The Leafs had a 20% chance of winning the first overall pick in the draft and lone behold, the Leafs won the lottery.

They elected to draft 6-foot-3, 220 lbs centre Auston Matthews.

The Leafs had also drafted winger Mitch Marner 4th overall in the 2015 draft and winger William Nylander 8th overall in the 2014 draft. With arguably the best coach in the game guiding these young players, the Leafs looked like they could go from last place to a playoff team within a one-year span.

And they did exactly that.

Babcock’s second season went phenomenally well and immensely exceeded expectations. The Leafs managed to sneak into 8th place and were set to play the Washington Capitals during the first round of the 2017 playoffs.

The Leafs gave the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals everything they could handle. Five out of the six games played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Captials went into overtime. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they lost the series 4-2 and were eliminated from the 2017 playoffs.

Despite being knocked out in round one, the Leafs showed that they were for real and were only going to get better with experience and maturity. This team had some serious potential moving forward.

Next season, the team improved further during the regular season. The 2017-2018 season saw the Leafs set a franchise high with 105 points as they finished in 3rd place in the Atlantic division. They had the opportunity to face the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2018 playoffs.

The Bruins were by far their biggest rival over the past half decade and Leafs’ fans wanted nothing more than to get revenge on the Bruins after their 4-1 collapse in game 7 of the 2013 playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, they once again blew a 3rd period lead and lost to the Bruins in 7 games.

The 2018-2019 season was very similar to the year prior. The Leafs finished with 100 points, 5 points below their total from the 2017-2018 season. They once again finished 3rd in the Atlantic division and faced their biggest rival in the first round.

The Leafs has a strangle hold on the Bruins as they went up 3-2 in the series and they were heading back to Toronto for game 6. Little did Leafs fans know that this game would mark the beginning of the end for Mike Babcock.

The Leafs were down by a score of 3-2 in game 6 and had all the momentum and pressure against the Bruins in the latter half of the 3rd period. Mike Babcock elected to pull goaltender Frederik Andersen a little prematurely and before the Leafs had full possession of the puck. The end result was almost instantly an empty-net goal for the Bruins to seal game 6.

As for game 7 in Boston, it was the same old narrative. Only difference was that the Leafs didn’t blow a lead in this game because they never had a lead. The Leafs simply looked uninterested and defeated. Babcock faced heavy criticism after another series loss to the Bruins and for not playing his star players frequently enough, specifically in reference to generational talent Auston Matthews.

Fast forward to this season. The Leafs had a decent start to the 2019-2020 season going 9-5-3 in their first 17 games, which would have put them on pace to finish the season with 101 points. However, the next 6 games were catastrophic as the Leafs went 0-5-1 and lost Mitch Marner, Alex Kerfoot and Trevor Moore to injury.

On Wednesday afternoon, it was officially announced that Mike Babcock has been relieved of his coaching duties in Toronto.

Babcock finished with a record of 173-133-45 in 351 regular season games and an 8-12 record in 20 playoff games with the Leafs.

It was announced that Sheldon Keefe would be Babcock’s replacement. The 39-year-old Keefe has had tremendous success as coach of the Marlies as he owned a record of 199-89-22-9. Keefe led the Marlies to four consecutive playoff births and also led the team to its first ever Calder Cup championship in 2018.

Keefe is thrown into a challenging situation as the Leafs are currently riding a six game losing streak and are sitting well out of a playoff spot. To make matters even more difficult, Keefe will have to turn this around without the help of Marner, Kerfoot and Moore for the time being.

To Babcock’s credit, he was a huge factor in the Leafs’ regular season success the past few seasons. Now let’s see if Keefe can push the Leafs even further and help them excel in the playoffs. The Leafs have not won a playoff round since 2004.

Sheldon Keefe is set to make his Leafs’ coaching debut Thursday night in Arizona.