It’s been a wild week in Toronto with the Babcock news, but along with it seems to be some major spin-off of talks about the Leafs’ options to fill their front office. It feels like by the time this is all said and done, there may not be a CHL general manager left in the country.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie joined the folks in Edmonton for a radio spot this morning and had some interesting things to say regarding the week’s big hire, Toronto’s ongoing general manager search, and even more junior hockey names popping up as potential targets to join this rebuild.
On whether Babcock, at the enormous 50-million dollar price tag, can really be a coach you bring in for a rebuilding team:
“I think Shanahan knows – and Babcock knows it too – that in order to get to the stage where he’s been at with the Red Wings and be able to function the way the Red Wings function, there’s no shortcut to get there. You can’t just snap your fingers and say “We’re going to use The Detroit Model””
And how ownership will allow this to play out:
“The most fascinating thing is – I mean, let’s look at it practically – the Toronto Maple Leafs are owned by two companies that run television networks: Bell and Rogers. And the Maple Leafs’ ratings dropped off the face of the earth this year. It was one of the reasons why Hockey Night in Canada’s were low, and the regional packages that we run on TSN and Rogers runs on Sportsnet were way, way, way down. So why do you think Bell and Rogers bought this team in the first place? They wanted content. They want to drive their other businesses, synergy, and they don’t have any of that right now. And as long as the team is horrible and doesn’t make the playoffs they’re not going to get any. So two years in and they say “We’re right on course and we think we might be able to get in the playoffs in another year or two” and you get these executives going “We gotta go another couple years without making the playoffs? We can’t” And that’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of the commitment there to do it. And that’s what Babcock wanted: assurances from ownership that eighteen months in they’re not going to cut and run and say “Go out July 1st and let’s get as many free agents as we can and try to prop this thing up””
On the topic of Mark Hunter, whether he can step into the role of Leafs’ GM, and how that shifts his focus away from the scouting and development role he’s known for, McKenzie believes the front office could make that shift and fill that void in other ways.
“I’ve heard Kelly McCrimmon’s name, in Brandon (with the Wheat Kings). He’s the Mark Hunter of the WHL if you want to call him that. He might be a candidate for jobs in the NHL.”
Let’s break off here for a second, because yesterday, in his first day as coach of the Leafs, Babcock actually brought up McCrimmon and Hunter as two guys he has a boatload of respect for.
“Mark Hunter, when they hired Hunts last year, I said “home run.” The two guys that I know are two of the best hockey men period are a guy named Kelly McCrimmon and there’s a guy named Mark Hunter. They’re the guys for me. They flat out just do it year after year after year. They find players. They can smell them. So that right there for me when I heard last year, I said right away, “There’s a hire. That’s a hockey man.” When I met with Hunts and Shanny when I first got in here that day, I can talk to that guy. He’s a hockey man.”
It should also be noted that Kelly’s brother, the late Brad McCrimmon, served as an assistant coach to Babcock from 2008 to 2011 in Detroit.
McKenzie also had some things to say about the Leafs’ search for a new general manager versus promoting someone in-house. There’s this sense that an established guy like McPhee might be hesitant to take the job, knowing the structure of this front office will make for anything but a traditional manager position. But it appears that’s not the case.
“I think a guy like McPhee would jump in a heartbeat. I mean, there’s only thirty jobs in the NHL, when you lose one you want to get back in. George McPhee is very close with the Hunter family – he hired Dale to coach the Capitals. He could work with Mark Hunter in a heartbeat.”
“As the GM of the Capitals one of the things he was never able to do was have the money to go out and get a marquee coach because of the budget. And now you’ve got the highest paid coach in the game.”
Again, you can listen to the full segment here (via TSN1260).