The news that Mike Babcock had agreed to join the Toronto Maple Leafs would have gladdened the hearts of many of their long suffering fans. The heavily recruited Babcock is, after all, one of the most highly regarded coaches in the National Hockey League, and for a franchise that has been mired in more than its fair share of doom and gloom over the years, this can only be good news.
Its not just that Toronto – the richest and most popular team in the league – have gone almost 50 years without winning the Stanley Cup, its also that, with just one playoff appearance in the last 10 years, they haven’t even come remotely close to ending that drought, with season after season ending prematurely and sometimes in shambolic fashion. For Babcock, coming off 10 straight playoff years with Detroit, that would be a brand new experience.
Babcock, 52, joins Toronto after taking the Detroit Red Wings to two Stanley Cup Finals – they won in 2008- and certainly boasts a top class track record, having also coached Canada to Olympic Gold in both 2010 and 2014, as well as a World Championship title in 2004. Prior to that, he also led the Anaheim Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. Whether that will be enough to turn around the fortunes of a franchise as troubled as the Maple Leafs though remains to be seen.
For one thing, Babcock isn’t the first reputable NHL coach to beat the well-worn path to Toronto in an attempt to revive the Maple Leafs. Indeed, Babcock would do well to note that prior success elsewhere is no guarantee of success in Toronto. They started last season under Randy Carlyle – a Stanley Cup winner with Anaheim in 2007 – who had taken them to the playoffs in 2012.
But he was fired in January as the Leafs season began to unravel. Carlyle had been hired by Brian Burke, who had also arrived as general manager after building Stanley Cup winning teams elsewhere. He was gone before Carlyle. Add to that list names like Ron Wilson, Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice and Pat Burns, all of whom had coached teams to Stanley Cup Finals before futile stints in Toronto, and the task ahead of Babcock becomes even clearer.
Then there’s the roster. As good as Babcock is, the mere addition of a top class coach is unlikely to be enough to transform a team that finished the season with a 16-game road winless streak into playoff contenders overnight. According to the Bleacher Report, Babcock’s new team will need “a significant roster overhaul” to progress, and the sooner president Mike Shanahan hires a general manager, the sooner the rebuilding can begin.
Babcock himself doesn’t expect this to be one smooth ride. As he told reporters at a press conference at which he was unveiled as the Leafs’ 30th coach earlier on Thursday, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
“I’m looking forward to the process, the battle, the pain, the fun and the journey”
The Maple Leafs will pay Babcock $50 million over 8 years, earning him an annual salary more than double that of any other coach in the NHL.
[Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images]