Yesterday, the Leafs fired their four-and-a-bit year head coach Mike Babcock. For all the negativity surrounding Toronto regarding their recent poor play (just 2 regulation wins in 16 games… yikes), there is always a way to look at things in a positive light. One could easily be happy for the future, with the rookie head coach Sheldon Keefe hopefully bringing ingenuity and modernization to the Leafs’ bench. However, it’s also important to shed a positive light on the past.
To do that, let’s look at some of our favourite Mike Babcock moments from his years leading the Maple Leafs.
In the Beginning
Babcock’s tenure began in Toronto on May 15th, 2015 when, shortly after his coaching contract expired from the shipwrecked Detroit Red Wings. The running for his services largely came down to two teams, the other one being the Buffalo Sabres.
What better way to begin your career in Toronto than with a gigantic ‘$#@% you’ to one of our historic rivals in Detroit by being one of the few coaches ever to choose not to return to a team. To follow that up with a second ‘$#@% you’ to another rival in the Buffalo Sabres was legendary.
The utter diaper-filling that went on by Buffalo media (specifically Mike Harrington) was hilarious. The awful takes included that Babcock would have gone to Buffalo if they’d won the McDavid Lottery, that he wanted to go to Buffalo but his wife wanted to go to Toronto so they picked Toronto, and that he only picked Toronto for the money, because obviously if it was about winning he would have gone to Buffalo.
How’d that work out for ya, Mr. Harrington?
A few years later, Babcock followed it up with the icing on the metaphorical ‘$#@% you’ cake in a quote comparing the Leafs’ rebuild to that of the Sabres:
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 4, 2018
Babcock had some memorable press conference ‘zingers’ over his four+ years in Toronto. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, even including some recent memories when times weren’t so rosy for him, to reminisce on his excellent quotability.
Babcock on what allows smaller skaters like Trevor Moore and Dmytro Timashov to succeed with #Leafs: "They got big assess. So they weigh a lot. You can laugh, but it's the truth. You can get under people, you can win retrieval races, you can own lanes. You have good balance."
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 21, 2019
Mike Babcock assessing William Nylander's first eight games for #Leafs: "I think Willy would tell ya he's feeling way better than he was at this time last year. I think he was on a beach in Sweden at this time last year. So just being at the rink is a step in the right direction"
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 19, 2019
Babcock on "relentless" Brown & Hyman: "Don’t need booster cables hooked up to their butt to get them going in the morning – they’re going"
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 19, 2017
Babcock praises Jamie Benn: "He’s got some nastiness to him … I like good pros that love being a good pro" pic.twitter.com/tfwTtxeinh
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 2, 2015
A Real Gud Pro Himself
Whatever you think Babcock was, it would be nearly impossible to deny that Babcock always handles himself with grace and integrity throughout his time in Toronto. He constantly defended his players in the media, even if that didn’t earn himself any special favour with those players.
It’s also really important to remember that did some wonderful things in Toronto beyond hockey. He has always been a major advocate for mental health support and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, and never stopped despite the pressure and spotlight of being head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On top of that, he became a member of the Children’s Hospital Team last year in support of fundraising initiatives for a new children’s hospital in Saskatchewan.
Whether you liked how he coached the Toronto Maple Leafs or not, I think we can all agree that Babcock came into this organization at the end of a very dark period and helped make them the team they are today. I don’t meant the team that’s sitting outside the playoffs today. I mean the team that we all have real, honest, hope for again. Of course he’s not the only reason, or even one of the biggest reasons for that, but he was a part of it and we should all take a moment to respect that.
At the end of the day, the promotion of Keefe into Babcock’s role was inevitable. While the engines were starting to stall, the Leafs’ management team decided that now is time for a new pilot steering us, but Keefe was always going to be Dubas’ guy, given their history with the Soo Greyhounds.
The next few weeks will answer the question of how much of the blame for the recent turmoil is owned by Babcock. Until then, all that we can do is be happy for the good times we shared with Babcock at the helm, and sing along to some Ariana Grande.