Mike Babcock: The First 24 Hours

We’re 24 hours into the Babcock era, and it’s time to
start processing what has happened. The Leafs have once again improved
themselves in the best possible way by bringing in a coach whose resume
includes significant highlights like a Stanley Cup, another couple of Stanley
Cup appearances, and two Olympic Gold Medals. After Ron Wilson taking out ad
space in the past few months letting everyone with a microphone know what a
lousy time he had in Toronto, the Leafs found someone infinitely more talented
than any coach they’ve had since pre-lockout Pat Quinn to take control of the
bench. It may have been money that got the deal done, it may have been the fact
that Toronto is certainly a more appealing locale than Detroit, Buffalo, or St.
Louis, but as long as part of the reasoning included being up to the challenge
of tackling the turnaround of a franchise that has been more of a punchline
than hockey team, it’s a good sign.

The selling point on Babcock for me is his ten year playoff
streak. Following the retirement of Lidstrom and with time catching up to
Datsyuk and Zetterberg, I’ve spent the past three seasons predicting that
Detroit will miss the playoffs, and every year Babcock manages to get Detroit
in. Of course, this is one of the few criticisms of the Babcock hiring was that
he’d be incapable of losing, the Leafs don’t need to be first round playoff
knockouts for the next decade and that he’d make the team too good too quick,
and thankfully that was one of the first things that Babcock addressed…

“I never came
here to make the playoffs. I came here to be involved in a Cup process, and
that goes from scouting from drafting from development from analytics, from
putting an off ice team together and an on ice team together. I love to win, I
have a burning desire to win. But I also want to win in the end.”

Comforting to say
the least, and certainly a fit with the organizations bigger picture
objectives, but go one step further with this. Let’s assume that Babcock does
get more out the Leafs roster than expected in year one. Joffrey Lupul sees his
numbers rebound, Roman Polak starts looking like a Kronwall clone, etc. The
Leafs are in a position to move out older players who have benefitted from the
Babcock bump in order to obtain more of the futures this organization badly
needs.  

Having someone of
Babcock’s experience assessing the Leafs roster in a full training camp may be
a huge benefit, as he’s likely the best person to know who Toronto needs to
commit to long term and who needs to be cut loose at the first opportunity. This
is something that Shanahan certainly promoted the idea of during the press
conference…

“In all of our conversions, do we want Mike to have his
input and his fingerprints, absolutely. It’s a collaborative effort, we all
have to communicate.”

Mike Babcock’s fingerprints are important ones to this team
and Darren Dreger alluded to that this morning on TSN Edmonton when he hinted
that one of Babcock’s duties could be to mentor Sheldon Keefe to ultimately be
his successor while Keefe runs the Marlies (at
around 9:45 mark
). It may also be interesting to see what Babcock’s coaching
staff will look like as you’d have to assume he has complete authority to bring
in whomever he wants, though oddly not a single question about assistant
coaches was asked to Babcock or Shanahan this morning.

With so much of the theme of the Babcock hiring being about
growing the organization, not winning the biggest question remains of how this
will impact the Leafs players.

General consensus remains that Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel
have to be moved as they provide the assets needed for a rebuild and are in the
older group that removes them from the Leafs long term plans. Using Kessel’s
age as the measure for being too old for the Leafs long term plans, it’s safe
to say that Roman Polak, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, and of course, Stephane
Robidas also aren’t long term guys.

What Babcock’s hiring does is potentially make Bernier, van
Riemsdyk, and Gardiner worth retaining as the reality of the situation is that
Babcock could have this team further along sooner than let’s say Randy Carlyle.
All three of these players would have been very moveable assets, but now some
pause needs to be given to think about whether these are players that can
thrive in a Babcock system and initially I’d answer yes to all three.

At the end of the day, this is very exciting news. It’s
optimistic news, and brings some further sense of direction to what the Leafs
are trying to achieve. It also significantly changes the landscape of questions
around the GM vacancy and which players are worth retaining. Potential GM
candidates now have the added incentive of working with one of the best coaches
in the league, but one that they likely won’t have a chance to remove if they
do not see eye to eye with. The monetary flexing of muscles certainly let’s
anyone who misses out on their ideal role be it a GM or Head Coach role with
another organization, that if they can fit in with Shanahan’s vision, there’s a
potential payday as an assistant with the Leafs.

Yesterday Shawn Reis had a list of seven
unanswered questions.
Thanks to the past 24 hours we have answers to three
of them and can now speculate a little more soundly about the other four, that’s
not a bad start. So far in 2015 we’ve seen the departure of Clarkson, Carlyle,
and Nonis and have added Mike Babcock and a top five draft pick. If there was
ever a time to start allowing ourselves to be happy about the Leafs again, the
time is now.