The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the Mike Babcock Sweepstakes. The team announced Wednesday that it had signed the highly-coveted and now former head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
According to TSN's Darren Dreger, Babcock is getting paid a historic amount of money for a NHL head coach.
Sources say Mike Babcock has been hired by the Maple Leafs. Mammoth 8 yr contract believed to be around $50 million.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 20, 2015
This is the single largest contract ever handed out to a NHL head coach by a whole heck of a lot. With an annual average of $6.25 million, Babcock dwarfs his previous reported annual salary of $2 million.
After many believed Toronto was out of the running as recently as Tuesday, Babcock has signed with the NHL’s richest club. According to reports, the Maple Leafs were in a bidding war with the Buffalo Sabres and also beat out Babcock’s now old club, the Detroit Red Wings, to acquire the head coach’s services.
Babcock reportedly received a five-year offer from the Red Wings to stay, worth a reported $4 million per season. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that he went elsewhere.
Babcock had stated his desire to win and win soon, but Toronto’s president of hockey operations Brendan Shanahan has repeatedly stated that the team is looking to rebuild and that there could be significant roster moves over the offseason. Those two philosophies don’t seem to match – in the short term, at least. But a $50 million contract is just too good to pass up.
The Maple Leafs finished 27th in the league last season with a 30-44-8 record. They chewed through two coaches, Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek, and are currently without a general manager as Dave Nonis was recently fired from that position. This is not a win-now situation for Babcock.
Toronto began selling off parts last season to begin the rebuilding process, but will landing a marquee coach change plans? Is Babcock a strong enough presence to help steer a dramatic culture change within the organization? There are so many questions left to ask the Maple Leafs.
This offseason does not present a strong free agent class for the Maple Leafs to dramatically improve in that fashion. The club needs to build up a prospect base that has grown thinner and thinner in recent years. They’re off to a good start by getting William Nylander in the first round last season.
There were a lot of rumors that the club would ship out one of or both of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel in the offseason to aid in the rebuilding process. That seems to become less likely at this point.
You’d have to expect that Babcock is going to have a heck of a lot of input in what goes on from a hockey operations perspective even though he has said before he has no interest in being a GM on top of being a coach.
Babcock’s credentials as a head coach are well known. The 52-year-old has compiled a 527-285-119 (and 19 ties) record over 12 seasons in the NHL. He led the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year as a head coach in 2002-03. The Ducks missed the playoffs the following season. That was the last time a Babcock-led team missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In 10 years with the Red Wings, Babcock’s teams reached the playoffs every year. He helped guide the team to back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, with the Red Wings winning it all in 2008. Babcock’s postseason record is 82-62.
While he has been in the NHL a long time, Babcock still has a deep development background. He began his coaching career in the Canadian college ranks before moving on to the Western Hockey League. Between the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Spokane Chiefs, Babcock spent eight seasons in the WHL. During that time he led Canada to the gold medal at the 1997 World Championship.
In 2000, Babcock went to the American Hockey League where he coached the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks for two seasons before being elevated to the NHL club in 2002-03. He spent two seasons in Anaheim and ended up leading Canada to another gold medal, this time at the Men’s World Championship in 2004.
After the NHL lockout in 2004-05, Babcock landed with the Red Wings. Over his 10 years, he was selected as Canada’s head coach for the Olympics in 2010 and 2014.
It doesn’t need to be repeated that the Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. They are closing in on their 100th year as a pro franchise as well. Bringing in Babcock is a huge coup for Brendan Shanahan and company, but the organization has to be careful to not try and take shortcuts.
The Maple Leafs have a lot of problems that need fixing, and some of those changes are going to take more patience. Money is no object to the club, as evidenced by what they probably had to pay to acquire Babcock, but the salary cap won’t allow them to throw money at every player they want.
This is going to take some time, but it’s clear that the organization is serious about winning by hiring a coach that has done a whole bunch of it over his career, and sparing no expense to make it happen. For Babcock, it could be the opportunity to be the man to elevate one of the NHL’s proudest, yet most tormented franchises
It’s a pretty big day in Leafland.