The Mike Babcock watch has ended. The most sought-after coach in recent NHL history has a new home north of the border with the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing for 8 years and 50 Million Dollars. It was very hard to finish that sentence with a period, because HOLY SMOKES is that a lot of money for a coach! Babcock was pursued heavily by the Buffalo Sabres and of course his old Detroit Red Wings, whom he leaves after a highly successful 10-year reign.
From even the earliest of rumblings into the season and even over last summer, it was apparent that Babcock wanted to go to a big market and wanted a lot of money. Well, he is going to the biggest hockey market and got an absolute ton of money. We knew that the Red Wings would want to keep Babcock, and that their stiffest competition would come from big markets with big money like the Philadelphia Flyers, Sabres, and of course the Maple Leafs. However, few thought that Babcock would willingly leave a playoff team to go to a lowly rebuilding squad for just cold hard cash. They were wrong.
From Mike Babcock’s perspective, this is a major on-ice loss. He goes from a team with superstars galore to one of the most barren in the whole NHL. Babcock is battle-tested regarding tough media though; they don’t call Detroit “Hockeytown” for nothing. Babcock’s supporters (is anybody not a Babcock supporter?) say that he can coach anyone, even the “uncoachable” Toronto Maple Leafs. Well this is as big a test as he will ever have in his NHL coaching career. This Leafs team has bad leadership, a truly horrifying defense, and no clear plan in goal. Even their prospect pipeline could use some work despite losing for so long. But yet the Leafs are paying Babcock all this money to live up to the hype, which he simply cannot do.
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, I see what they were thinking, trying to make themselves relevant again by bringing in the big name and hoping to jump back into contention, but this is simply unrealistic. This team has way to many problems to even slightly resemble a playoff team. Babcock will help the development of players, but Toronto is definitely 2+ years away from the playoffs.
It should be recalled that as one player cannot make a team a contender, one coach cannot make a team a contender. Toronto is trying to accomplish the latter, but the plan will not bear fruit in the near future.