Mitch Marner Practices On Fourth Line. Is Mike Babcock Sending a Message?

October 16th, 2017 No Comments

Is Mike Babcock sending a message to Mitch Marner?

With TSN’s Kristen Shilton reporting that Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner was practicing on the fourth line this morning there are sure to be a number of stories emerging suggesting that Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is sending a message.

While there could be some truth to that story, it is important to note that Marner has four points (1G, 3 A) through the first five games of the season. So, everything is good, right? Ummm, not exactly! Perhaps it is Marner’s team leading minus-6 rating through those five games that is troubling Babcock? Facts are facts and Marner has been on the ice for three even strength goals scored, but he has also been on the ice for seven even strength goals against…not great.

Of course, Marner’s line mates (James van Reimsdyk and Tyler Bozak) should not escape Babcock’s criticism, they too have struggled defensively, but it is clear that Marner is going to be the player to pay the price, at least thus far. To be fair, the trio of Bozak, JVR and Marner has never been mistaken as a shutdown line, rather a consistent offensive threat that can beat you with speed, grit and effort.

It’s not that this trio has looked terrible, but they have had a few rough nights out there and, if we are being honest, that drive and determination that Bozak, JVR and Marner have built their reputation on, hasn’t been there consistently.

Marner fans will say “we are only five games into the season, relax”…That observation may have been fine a few years ago, but this is a different team, with different expectations from days gone by. Simply put, Babcock wants a consistent effort every shift, every game. It’s not negotiable, he demands it.

Is Marner’s defensive game cause for concern? Perhaps. In all fairness, let’s not get things overly twisted- Marner is a huge talent, capable of bouncing back very quickly and getting into Babcock’s good books with ease. That said, it appears as if Babcock is not willing to relax and may very well make a line change with Marner finding himself on the fourth line along side Matt Martin and Dominic Moore heading into Toronto’s game against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.

Not lost in all of this is an opportunity for Connor Brown to show that he belongs on the third line. There is no question that he earned his promotion through his consistent play and offensive prowess, but can he really supplant Marner as Toronto’s full-time third line Right Winger? Probably not. To be honest, on many other teams, Brown likely is playing on the third line, but given Toronto’s considerable forward depth getting promoted from the fourth to the third line has proven to be a challenge. Whether it’s going to be Marner or Brown on the third line, let’s face it Toronto, this is a very good problem to have!

What will it take for Marner to earn his spot alongside James van Reimsdyk and Tyler Bozak again? It’s simple really; a more concerted effort on the back check and better possession numbers in the opposition zone should do the trick. All Marner really has to do is impress Babcock with his compete level and we should see Marner back on the third line very quickly.

Keep in mind; nothing is written in stone yet, we are, after all, just talking about practice thus far. Should Babcock stick to his practice lines against the Capitals Marner will likely be given every chance to earn his way back onto the third line, perhaps as quickly as a few shifts into the game?

Rest assured, whether Babcock tweaks his lines or not, the message to Marner and his line mates has been sent – shape up or else!






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