Mike Babcock chased money, but he’s well-prepared for scrutiny with Maple Leafs

21 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ken Holland, Red Wings, move into the unknown without Mike Babcock.

Detroit general manager Ken Holland played it classy the whole way with former coach Mike Babcock, and the latter’s decision on his coaching free agency. The folks at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment opened the vault Wednesday and won the Mike Babcock Sweepstakes, luring him away from the Detroit Red Wings with an eight-year contract worth a reported $50 million. The length is important because it’s a recognition by the Leafs and Babcock that it’s going to take some time to turn around one of the most dysfunctional teams in the NHL.

And I must tell you, I’m still having trouble getting my head around the fact that after all the visits and talks and discussion Mike Babcock decided his future lies with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nah, Babs probably wanted to pass his next physical exam. “When you’ve been in the same city as long as I have and as long as Mike has, you don’t get much longer term than four or five years,” Holland said. Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc., Canada’s two largest telecommunications companies, bought the team along with the National Basketball League’s Toronto Raptors and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC in 2011 for C$1.32 billion ($1.1 billion). Of course, I guess he must also like money and security — both of which he got with the Leafs giving him an eight-year deal for $50 million, making him the highest paid coach in the game. Babcock was the hottest commodity on the coaching market with as many as five teams chasing him and, until Tuesday night, it appeared that he was headed to the Buffalo Sabres.

It’s a decision that brings to a close the most interesting coaching derby in recent memory, perhaps since Scotty Bowman left the dynastic Montreal Canadiens after those Stanley Cup runs in the 1970s. Babcock is a very good coach but he’ll soon discover that he doesn’t have the talent he had in Detroit where he won one Stanley Cup in 10 seasons with a much stronger roster. I really felt all along that if Babcock left Detroit — and I wasn’t sure he would — that he would go to Buffalo, because the money would be good there and the team is ahead of the Leafs in terms of their rebuild.

The Bruins introduced Don Sweeney as their new general manager and Sweeney, who replaced his former Harvard teammate Peter Chiarelli, was non-committal when asked about Julien’s future. If Julien is let go — and he and Chiarelli were on the brink in 2011 before they guided the team to the Stanley Cup — it will be the latest in a series of injustices inflicted on the Orleans native.

The following year, Julien had the New Jersey Devils in second place in the Eastern Conference when Lou Lamoriello fired him with three games remaining in the regular season. His chance to start a new legacy with an organization that matters, his place in history, and a fresh challenge are all things that were huge motivating factors for Babcock.

As general manager Marc Bergevin made clear last week, Therrien will be in Montreal for a while because, for starters, he advanced a lot farther than Babcock or Julien this season with less talent. Remember when the Leafs were committed to changing the complexion of the team and that meant, at least in theory, dismantling a core that includes captain Dion Phaneuf and sniper Phil Kessel. Have to wonder if part of the gauntlet that will be thrown down for Babcock will be to try and instill some character and pride in a group that shamefully laid down under interim head coach Peter Horachek. The Sabres were aggressive in their pursuit, made two different offers and now find themselves losers not only on the Babcock front but also in the draft lottery where they missed on the chance to take Connor McDavid (although Jack Eichel will be a heck of a player).

The Wings survived Scotty Bowman’s retirement, they survived Steve Yzerman and Jim Nill going elsewhere to become GMs, they can certainly survive Babcock’s exit. Holland deserves a lot of credit for handling all this so well, with class, and with purpose, putting a time limit a few weeks ago to Babcock’s window shopping. And obviously the coaches we think of as some of the best in the business are the ones that consistently get more from less and find ways to get their teams to compete at the highest levels at the most important times. LEBRUN: Yes still some coaching positions to fill around the league, and perhaps even in Boston where Don Sweeney didn’t exactly give Claude Julien the biggest backing Tuesday upon his introduction as the team’s new GM.

Not sure any team will have talked to more candidates by the time they’re done, including the likes of Adam Oates, Peter DeBoer, Randy Carlyle, etc.

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