Mike Babcock was introduced to much fanfare today in Toronto, where he’ll take over as head coach of a Maple Leafs team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 and hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since the NHL expanded beyond six teams.
So, of course, everyone wanted to know — why the Toronto Maple Leafs? With all their past dysfunction? With no Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel? Why would he agree to take on such a challenge?
Besides the money, we mean.
Babcock said the decision came down to doing “the best thing for Mike Babcock and his family, and for the next 10 years.”
He acknowledged it was a “hard decision” to leave Detroit, where he left a “very emotional” connection with the Red Wings organization.
“But in the end, we made this decision to come to Toronto,” said Babcock. “You know, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to coach Canada’s teams, and enjoyed that immensely. 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.”
It was a statement that drew applause from the assembled MLSE employees, and the rolling of eyes from fans of the other six Canadian teams.
But it underscored the fact — and it’s a fact now, not just a theory — that Babcock wants the challenge of trying to win a Stanley Cup in hockey’s largest market. A goal that many have tried to achieve since 1967, but none have accomplished. He called it a “massive, massive challenge.”
Speaking of massive, the contract (reportedly for eight years and $50 million) Babcock received proved to him that the Leafs were committed to building a team the right way. No quick fixes. A long process.
“To me, it’s real simple,” said Babcock. “The contract is simply a commitment from the Maple Leafs to success. They’ve made a long-term commitment to me, so I understand totally they’re committed to the process.”
He added he’ll keep driving his Ford F-150 truck.
And in case you were wondering, there’s nothing in Babcock’s contract that gives him a say in personnel decisions. However, team president Brendan Shanahan made it clear that he wants Babcock’s input.
“Did Mike need it in his contract? No,” said Shanahan. “In all of our conversations, do we want Mike to have his fingerprints and his input? Absolutely.”
As for Babcock’s flirtation with the Buffalo Sabres, he confirmed he had contract discussions with the club. But he denied he “lied” to the Sabres, as one Buffalo reporter asserted.
“That lying word is an interesting word to me,” said Babcock. “I’ve been in the public eye for a long, long time. I don’t think that goes anywhere near who I am or what I’m about. I’ve been real straightforward and honest in the process with all the teams I talked to.”
In Toronto, Babcock understands that the constant attention, from media and fans alike, is going to be something he’s never experienced.
“I don’t think you can know until you live it every single day,” he said. “[But] what I enjoy about today and what’s going on here is that it’s obvious people care.
“You want to be in an environment where people care. And this fan base here, in my opinion, really cares about the Leafs, and they want us to be good, and they understand that we’re going to be in a long process to where they want to go.
“So I embrace this opportunity of coaching the Maple Leafs. … In the end, I’ve made the right decision and I’m excited about it.”