Why the Toronto Raptors succeed but the Toronto Maple Leafs struggle

Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors – OG Anunoby (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

The tenants of Scotiabank Arena have had remarkably different seasons. There are distinct reasons why the Toronto Raptors have succeeded when the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t.

The Toronto Raptors on-court play has been a pleasant surprise as they defend their title. Though many fans counted the team out when Kawhi Leonard packed his bags for Los Angeles, the Raps proved that they still have a lot to offer. The same can’t be said for their MLSE sister team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs entered their season with extraordinarily high expectations. On paper, their roster seemed to be composed of players talented enough to win the Stanley Cup. Instead of looking like a club who’s ready to hoist the trophy, they look like a team in danger of missing the playoffs. The disparity between the hockey and basketball teams is clear.


The head coaches of the Raptors and Maple Leafs couldn’t be more different. Nick Nurse was promoted last season, ascending from Dwane Casey’s staff as an assistant to take over the lead role. He won the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in his rookie year and has been lauded for his play-calling and defensive game planning.

Mike Babcock started the season as the Leafs head coach. He was relieved of his duties on November 20 making way for a new voice in the locker room, Sheldon Keefe. Prior to his firing, Babcock was the bench boss for nearly 17 seasons in the NHL for a total of 1301 games. He even won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2009.

Babcock lost his job due to poor decision-making. He was heavily criticized for the way he deployed his players, especially the backup goaltender. Babcock would often play him against the most challenging team in back-to-back situations and save his starter for the less talented opposition. His judgment was also frequently questioned for keeping his stars on the bench at crucial moments in games and not giving them enough playing time.

One of Nurse’s best coaching qualities is that he isn’t shy to be creative with Xs and Os. He has used creativity as an asset, while Babcock kept things very stagnant. The results of creative play-calling had the Raptors keeping opponents guessing, while the Leafs systems became more and more predictable. During Leaf’s powerplays, teams often knew exactly to defend. What should have been elite special teams was less than ordinary.

The Raptors are fortunate to have Nurse calling the plays. He has actively focused attention on shutting down opposing superstars. He has even used little known defensive alignments like box-and-one and the triangle-and-two to perfection to limit those stars’ damage.