Are the Leafs Falling Out of the Babcock Race?

We’ve heard over and over again that it’s a three-team race between the Detroit Red Wings, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the services of veteran coach Mike Babcock. As his decision nears, it looks like Toronto might be slipping out of contention.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the total rebuild that Toronto is said to be going through this offseason (and beyond) may be too much of a hurdle for Babcock

“I still think the two favourites, in no particular order, are Detroit and Buffalo. I could be wrong about Toronto, but I just think that they’re at the bottom of their total restart and (Babcock) is not going to be patient enough to lose their for three or four years.”

Friedman, obviously, is the man. That being said, I think it’s too early to count the Leafs out. Each organization – Detroit, Buffalo and Toronto – offer a unique scenario for Babcock to ponder.

More past the jump…

The Detroit Red Wings

This is home, sweet home for Babcock and his family. They’ve been in Michigan since 2005 and Babcock has had great success with the organization, having also established an excellent relationship with longtime general manager Ken Holland.

On the ice, Detroit has made the playoffs in each of Babcock’s ten seasons there, even winning the Stanley Cup in 2008. While his biggest weapons – Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – are getting older, and will soon follow Nicklas Lidstrom into retirement, Detroit has its fair share of young talent in the organization. I wouldn’t consider them a contender year in and year out, but with Babcock behind the bench, you have to imagine they’ll continue to compete for the playoffs every year.

The Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres have been a pretty bad hockey team for a few years now, but their prospect cupboard is stocked with talent, and picking up Jack Eichel late next month in the draft will only help push their rebuild along further. Buffalo is still years away from competing for a championship, but the bottoming out in the standings will be over shortly. Babcock will just need to focus on developing the young talent, should he head there.

Buffalo is also reportedly ready to spend handsomely for Babcock’s services, with Terry Pegula ready to pay him upwards of $5M per season. Detroit has reportedly only offered $3.25M a year, which would still make Babcock the highest paid coach in the NHL, but still – that ain’t a cool five mill. 

The Toronto Maple Leafs

Let’s start with the good news – the Leafs are filthy rich. Like, hilariously so. They could match (and beat) any financial offer that Babcock receives from any other team. Money isn’t everything, but it certainly doesn’t hurt in this situation. I could think of worse cities (ahem, Buffalo) to be a multimillionaire in.

On the other hand, Friedman is right in saying that of all the teams the Babcock is considering, Toronto is the furthest away from contending. They’ve added some nice pieces to the prospect pool over the past couple years and will add another couple during the 2015 Entry Draft, but the Leafs still haven’t begun selling off their current star roster players. Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, James van Riemsdyk… at least a few of them (and others) are expected to be shipped off in short order. Toronto might one day have a similar amount of young talent as Buffalo does now, though that’s still likely a year or two away.

But here’s the thing – Toronto is also a blank canvas. If Babcock wants to go to an organization and work with a young but enthusiastic front office, he might get a larger say in player personnel decisions than he would anywhere else. Babcock would likely have a hand in the draft, in trades, in roster moves – all of that. If Babcock wants to coach “his team”, his best bet is to help build it himself. That’s a rare opportunity, and Babcock surely knows Toronto is his best chance at doing so. 

On top of that, I still wholeheartedly believe that whoever brings a winning team back to Toronto will immediately become legend. Win with the Leafs, and your legacy will live on forever. It’s a tough job – perhaps the toughest one in hockey – but it might also be the most rewarding. I don’t know Babcock at all, but he’s never been one to back down from hockey’s greatest challenges (and he usually comes out on the winning side too).

Where do you think Mike Babcock will end up? Let us know in the comments below…

  • Very unique take on why Babcock would come to Toronto, I enjoyed that a lot. But I still think it’s too big a hurdle for a person like him to willingly lose 3-4 years, then contend. Detroit offered 3.25 earlier in the season, if TOR or BUF offer 5m, I’m sure DET would match that offer. Would be interesting to see Babcock in TOR, but the chances are very slim.