When you’re the highest-paid coach in the history of the league, there’s going to be pressure.
When you take over the most valuable team in the league, there’s going to be pressure.
When you go to work under the most media scrutiny in the league, well, you get the point.
Mike Babcock is fully aware that the Toronto Maple Leafs represent the biggest challenge of his career.
“Whether you believe it or not, I believe this is Canada’s team, and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map,” he said upon his much-ballyhooed hiring.
“I love to win. I have a burning desire to win.”
Smartly, he also bought himself some time to accomplish that goal.
“If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming,” he said. “This is going to be a long process. This is going to be a massive, massive challenge.”
So it’s not like the Leafs have to compete for a Stanley Cup next year. They don’t even have to make the playoffs.
But there has to be some semblance of progress, whether it’s from younger players like Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, or simply in terms of how the Leafs go about their business.
“Anything that’s been going on is going to get cleaned up,” Babcock vowed at the draft. “We’re going to be a fit, fit team. We’re going to be a team that comes to the media everyday, after a win, after a loss, after practice, and owns their own stuff. Period.”
In other words, the Leafs can’t be a big ol’ tire fire again.
And remember, even with a Stanley Cup and a pair of Olympic gold medals on his coaching resume, Babcock still has his doubters. Not that he’s a good coach — pretty much everyone agrees that he’s a good coach — but that he’s as good as advertised.
The doubters point to the Red Wings team he won with in 2008, headlined by Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg. They point to the loaded 2010 and 2014 editions of Team Canada. They say those teams could’ve won with just about any half-decent coach behind the bench.
And let’s face it, they’ve kind of got a point.
But if he can win with the Leafs?
“I’d like to be the best coach in my generation,” Babcock said in a magazine profile before he took the job in Toronto.