It’s not often that one of the most well-respected coaches in professional hockey becomes a free agent, but here we are.
Mike Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the NHL playoffs, and he’s now free to leave the organization and sign on with pretty much anyone he’d like. A Stanley Cup Champion and two-time Olympic Gold winner, Babcock will have the luxury of picking and choosing the right situation for him and his family; likely one where he’ll be able to continue his winning ways rather quickly. A lot of people think that’ll be Edmonton, which is kind of hilarious, but the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers are also looking for a bench boss. And hey, so are the Leafs.
They aren’t necessarily on the cusp of success, but Toronto has the deepest pockets in the league and can also offer Babcock something he likely won’t get elsewhere – control over the roster. While the Leafs might be a good fit for Babcock though, is he really the right guy for the Leafs?
Our TLN Roundtable has their say in the matter below…
My thoughts on Babcock are complicated. I think he’s an excellent coach who has held Detroit in contention much longer than they should have been capable of. With that team ready to fall off the cliff the second he leaves I’m sure he’s ready to pursue other opportunities now. I hope it’s in Toronto, but not as a head coach.
Babcock as a head coach would definitely improve the Leafs, but maybe improve them too fast. I’m not ready for the Leafs to be out of high percentage draft lottery positions just yet. I want to see some further dismantling so the team can be built up. I see Babcock as a potential architect of that rebuild and that’s why I’d love to see him as the new Leafs GM.
The first benefit of Babcock as GM, is he’s the guy picking your next coach, and can help develop that coach whoever he may be. While he’s not an established GM, he’s certainly old boys clubsy enough that he can hold his own at GM meetings. And he knows what types of players need to be assembled to compete in today’s NHL. Going out and finding who they are and negotiating the cost of attaining them can fall on the front office committee at large. There is little doubt that Babcock would be reluctant to send back top prospects to junior or the AHL, and he’ll have the patience to wait for those players to be what the Leafs need them to be. So yes, Babcock is the guy for many reasons, but not as the head coach.
I think Babcock has definitely earned his reputation as a quality NHL coach, and I doubt few would be displeased seeing him behind the bench 41 times a year (or more) at the Air Canada Centre. His Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals speak for themselves-with many believing he’s the best coach in today’s NHL. That being said, Mike Babcock might not be the best option. I doubt he’d be a bad one, but at the end of the day, there are always other options to explore. Not every coach (see Jon Cooper) has to have boatloads of experience before taking on a role as a new head coach. Babcock shouldn’t necessarily be THE guy simply because of what he’s won- but rather a strong candidate in the Leafs coaching race.
After all, the last time the Leafs brought in a former Cup-winning coach, it didn’t turn out too well. No result is guaranteed- and without a competent roster, it won’t really matter if the Leafs have Babcock or not- as evidenced by the Red Wings results over the last few seasons. No matter how good your coach is (or is perceived to be), deep on-ice personnel seems to trump smarts off the ice. Babcock might be a great piece to add, but he’s just that, a small piece in a big puzzle of creating a great hockey team. There have been a lot of teams to win the Stanley Cup. Only one of them has ever been coached by Mike Babcock. Nothing’s guaranteed in the NHL, and while bringing in Babcock may see improvements to the overall makeup of the Maple Leafs, it’s not necessarily going to lead to great success. Approach optimistically, but cautiously.
I can’t believe in just four months we’ve gone from having Randy Carlyle coaching the Leafs to wondering if Mike Babcock is good enough for the job. We’re terrible.
In all seriousness, there’s obviously a question on everyone’s mind over whether the time is right, considering the team is in build mode and Babcock might want to walk into something more established, but if he signs on the dotted line, that’s his problem to sort out.
By all accounts Babcock is a smart coach and I think he’s made the most out of what he’s had in Detroit these past few years, plus he seems to be the top dog among his peers as he’s been the no-brainer choice to coach the highest profile teams ever assembled in 2010 and 2014. Count me in the group of folks who would be fine seeing the Leafs hire a guy like Blashill, or even Eakins, coaches with little or no NHL experience. Hell I would’ve been okay with holding on to Horachek. But the bottom line is there’s nothing to suggest Babcock is in any way a bad coach, or that he would do anything other than make the Leafs better. He’s going to be an expensive hire, but I don’t care – it isn’t cap money and I’m not spending it. You won’t see me crying if he comes to Toronto.