When Mike Babcock was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the goals he set was to “create a safe environment” for his players.
Translation: he didn’t want his players to feel trapped in the hockey-mad market that is Toronto.
He didn’t want them fighting with the media anymore.
He didn’t want them feuding with the fans anymore.
“Right now, it’s a hard place,” he said.
Fast forward to the present and Babcock believes he’s made progress in that area.
“I think our players, you can tell it by talking to them right now, they feel pretty good,” he told the team’s website in a one-on-one interview. “And when you feel safe, that doesn’t mean it’s friendly and cuddly. I never said that at all. It’s ‘do your job, do it well, we’re gonna look after you.'”
Certainly, “friendly and cuddly” is not how Babcock has treated struggling goalie Jonathan Bernier.
But the truth can be brutal sometimes. Bernier was not playing well. He still hasn’t won a game.
The challenge for Babcock is that in a city like Toronto — where a former coach once said his goalie was “just OK” and all hell broke loose — it can be tough to balance the goal of creating a “safe environment” with the goal of being “a team that comes to the media everyday, after a win, after a loss, after practice, and owns their own stuff,” which was another thing the new coach said in the offseason.
And that’s why Babcock got the big bucks. The Leafs believed he was the man to strike the right balance.
Jobs that pay $50 million typically aren’t easy.