The Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock on Wednesday after a terrible start to the 2019-20 season. We already know what direction the Maple Leafs are going to go in — it is Sheldon Keefe’s team now — but Babcock’s future remains unsettled.
Even though his tenure never produced the results it was expected to in Toronto, he is almost certainly going to get another head coaching job in the NHL in the not-too-distant future as long as he wants one. And given his reputation and the fact his name still carries a ton of respect among NHL teams there will probably several options for him when the time is right.
Let’s take a look at what some of those potential options could be.
It could happen, it might make sense, and it might actually work
Vancouver Canucks. Based on their roster moves the past couple of years it is easy to get the sense Canucks management believes the team is closer to winning than it might actually be, and that could put a ton of pressure on the current head coach if they don’t start producing better results. Travis Green is in his third year behind the team’s bench and while they have shown incremental improvement every year, they have hit a pretty big wall the past couple of weeks and are starting to regress back down toward the no-man’s land in the standings they’ve taken up residence in the past few years. How tempting would the opportunity to land a big-name coach be for Canucks ownership if things don’t turn around in the coming weeks and months?
While Babcock’s last two-plus years in Toronto turned into a disappointment where a change was necessary, he did help get things going in the right direction when the Maple Leafs were at a comparable stage to where the Canucks are now.
Minnesota Wild. It is a matter of when, and not if, the Wild make a coaching change. They have one of the worst records in the league, they are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row, and a new general manager is going to want his own coach. It is not a great roster, but there is still enough there that a coach like Babcock could do enough to get them to a playoff spot where they bow out in Round 1.
My goodness, this fit might actually be perfect.
It is a real long shot, but still worth considering
Seattle. He takes a couple of years off, continues to get paid by Toronto in the short-term, then becomes the first head coach of the Seattle Kraken/Sasquatch/Sockeyes/Evergreens/Whatever they might be. Given that this team is going to have the same expansion draft rules as Vegas, and with the way Vegas has become an immediate contender, expectations are going to be absurdly high for Seattle to repeat that. An established coach with a championship pedigree would also be a big splash at the beginning. The one potential problem here might be that Seattle’s new front office seems as if it is going to be heavily invested in utilizing analytics and we just saw what happens when Babcock works with a more analytically inclined front office.
He just retires. He goes nowhere. He just rides off into the sunset, makes the occasional appearance on TV as an analyst during the Stanley Cup Final or the Winter Olympics, says goodbye to coaching, and does whatever he wants to do with his free time. The competitor in him may not be ready for this, but just pretend for a second that you were 56 years old, had already accomplished all of the highest honors you could in your chosen profession (in this case a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals) and had millions of dollars sitting in the bank with many more coming your way over the next few years. Wouldn’t you at least consider retiring? Of course you would. And no one would blame you. Honestly he would probably be crazy not to consider this.
It will get suggested, but it probably shouldn’t happen
Chicago Blackhawks. I’m not saying Jeremy Colliton won’t be the solution in Chicago, and I am not even sure this would be a good fit (it probably wouldn’t), but the Blackhawks seem determined to try and squeeze everything they can out of their remaining core, and who is to say Stan Bowman’s desperation to keep that window open couldn’t lead to him at least considering a move like this?
On the other hand, if you just fired your three-time Stanley Cup winning coach, and then within a year fired his replacement only to hire another veteran coach that has been less successful than the Hall of Fame coach you already fired it might paint the picture that you don’t really know what you’re doing and don’t have much of a plan.
San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are still trying to get that elusive championship. A slow start probably put Pete DeBoer on the hot seat and would have made this sort of swap very tempting, but with their improved play of late things have probably cooled off in that regard. This also doesn’t seem like a good fit. What the Sharks need right now is a better goalie, not a better coach.
A return to Detroit: No. Don’t even think about it. Not happening. Shouldn’t happen. Time to move on.
MORE BABCOCK/LEAFS COVERAGE:
• Maple Leafs fire Babcock and replace him with Keefe
• Underachieving Maple Leafs needed this change
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.