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Maple Leafs noncommittal on Babcock future

Coach to go through evaluation; hope to sign pending RFA Marner to long-term contract

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are noncommittal on the future of coach Mike Babcock but hopeful of signing forward Mitchell Marner, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, to a long-term contract.

Babcock, whose fourth season as Toronto coach ended with a 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First round, fell short of getting a vote of confidence from general manager Kyle Dubas, who was asked about the coach coming back next season.

"I think the way I look at that is [team president Brendan Shanahan] has to decide on me first, to do an evaluation of me, which I think any organization would be best to do," Dubas said during locker cleanout day at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. "And then once that's done, we evaluate everybody. We could win the Stanley Cup, and it would be the same discussion of evaluating where we're at and are we content and are we moving in the right direction?

"So I think with how fluid the situation is, I wouldn't give any guarantee to anybody in our whole organization, starting with me. We'll do what we think is best, and we'll let you know when we know. That's my expectation."

Though Dubas wouldn't commit on Babcock's future, he seemed confident Marner would be signed and remain in Toronto. The 21-year-old led the Maple Leafs in scoring during the regular season with 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists), and had four points (two goals, two assists) against Boston in the first round.

"It's Priority One for us, and we'll get right to it, Dubas said. "Mitch has had an excellent season; he's a massive, massive part of everything we're doing here, both in terms of his talent and ability which has shown to be among the best in the League, and in terms of the joy and the leadership that he brings to the club each day."

Video: Bruins outlast Leafs in seven games to advance

Marner said he expects talks between Dubas and his agent, Darren Ferris, to heat up in the coming days. 

"It's a major priority," said Marner, who has 224 points (67 goals, 157 assists) in 241 games with the Maple Leafs. "I want to be here. I want to play for this team. I love the people in this locker room, I love the people that work in this organization. We're a tight-knit group. It's a special group to be a part of."

Babcock is halfway through the eight-year contract he signed with Toronto in 2015.

Dubas said he and Babcock, who helped lead the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past three seasons but has not made it past the first round, talk every day during the season, whether it be about game plans, ice time for players, pretty much everything.

"We have to continue to improve everything that we do," said Dubas, who became Maple Leafs general manager on May 11. "It starts with me, improving the job that I do -- contracts, signing players, drafting players, development system, every single thing in our organization, and it's up to me to work with Mike to continue to have him improve and have his staff improve, and I think that's one of the best things about working here.

"There's not anybody staunch in their stance that what we're doing is great, and we can't change it. We know we have to improve and get better and that's the exciting part of it."

Another situation the Maple Leafs have to resolve is that of defenseman Jake Gardiner.

Dubas said he won't be able to determine if the 28-year-old, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, can be signed under the NHL salary cap until Marner's contract has been ironed out.

Gardiner had 30 points (three goals, 27 assists) in 62 games this season and has 245 points (45 goals, 200 assists) in 551 games over eight NHL seasons, all with the Maple Leafs.

He played all seven games against the Bruins despite dealing with a back injury and had two assists.

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