If Mike Babcock makes it to next summer without a new
contract from the Red Wings, the list of teams who would want to acquire his
services could probably be the other 29. Realistically, there are likely only a
few that would dish out the cash that Babcock is seeking. Of course a few million dollars is nothing for an NHL team to spend, or often times waste, but some teams are in more desperate need of a turn-around than others. 
Regarded as arguably the best
coach on the planet, Babcock is set to make $2 million this upcoming season in
Detroit – the last of his current deal – and what he’s looking for beyond that
is anyone’s guess, but the Wings haven’t hit that number yet, or he’d be
locked up.
No doubt plenty of Leafs followers have been paying
attention to the situation, since a) the Leafs currently have the worst coach
in the league, and b) they have more money than anyone else. To replace Carlyle
with Babcock would be like trading in your 1990 Chevy Lumina for a Ferrari with
McDonald’s coupons spilling out of the glove box. To be honest, I don’t even know if
Ferrari’s have glove boxes.
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Last week it was reported that Babcock will not negotiate with Detroit during the 2014-15 season. If a contract extension isn’t done by September,
it’ll wait until next summer when this deal is expiring. Now, with Babcock
set to make $2 million this upcoming season, he’s probably looking for a raise
to become the highest paid in the league. Right now, that title apparently
belongs to Joel Quenneville in Chicago, but I couldn’t find an exact figure. You’d be surprised how tough it is to dig up coaches’ salaries.
Timing is important, and it should be noted that Quenneville
is getting paid for delivering two Cups in the last five seasons, but I’d have
a hard time believing Babcock won’t become the highest paid in the league,
especially if a handful of teams are knocking at the door. He hasn’t won a Cup
since 2008, but the Wings teams he’s had since then pale in comparison to
anything in Chicago, and he’s been wisely chosen as the Canadian Olympic head
coach twice, with both teams crushing everyone in their path to two gold
medals.
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To get back to the $2 million figure Babcock is set to make
this upcoming season, this seems like somewhat of a cap figure for high-profile coaches from what I can gather (except for ol’ Scrooge McDuck Quenneville). Vigneault in New York makes the same (a
raise from his $1.8 per year in Vancouver), as did Bylsma in Pittsburgh, and Ron
Wilson is actually believed to have signed for nearly that much when he
announced his Christmas gift from Burke in 2010. No, really.
The Leafs (or Red Wings, or whoever) will likely have to go well
beyond that to get Babcock, but this is where Toronto should be able to blow
the doors off the league. 
Unfortunately up to this point, the Leafs have chosen to
spend money on a front office that included guys like Dave Poulin and Claude
“The capologist who put a basement team in overage penalty” Loiselle.
Still, the point is, the Leafs are the richest team in hockey by a fair margin
and can’t flex a lot of  their financial
strength on players in a hard-capped league, but they can pay whatever they
want for coaches and management.
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The Leafs scooped up Kyle Dubas from the Soo Greyhounds this
week, a guy who is considered an up-and-comer and someone who could turn out to
be a real force in the GM world. If Shanahan is serious about turning over this
management group and continuing to add top-level personnel, Babcock is an obvious target. There’s a little bit of history there too, with Babcock coaching Shanahan in
2006, where Shanahan put up 40 goals as a 37-year old.
When the Leafs pried Brian Burke away from Anaheim, it was
for a six year deal worth $18 million. In the last year of Wilson’s contract,
where he didn’t even coach, the team was paying Burke and Wilson nearly a combined
$5 million on top of whatever the hell Randy Carlyle started making. It should
be an easy decision to pay over the top for Babcock if he becomes available.
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I guess the big question is whether this is something the
Leafs are already thinking about. 
As sort of a continuation to what I wrote
about Carlyle last week, it’s plausible that Shanahan held on to
Carlyle partly for this reason. The Leafs couldn’t find his replacement immediately, so they’re just keeping him around, bringing in new assistants, and
possibly relinquishing some of his power. It probably wouldn’t make sense to
throw a new head coach in to the position right now, when you’re looking to
dump a truckload of money at Babcock one year down the road. If Babcock was
locked in with Detroit beyond this upcoming season, Carlyle might be
out of a job already.