Mike Babcock’s popularity in Detroit may have dropped some, but it probably couldn’t be any lower than it is right now in Buffalo. The Buffalo Sabres were reportedly in a bidding war with the eventual winner, the Toronto Maple Leafs, to acquire the head coach’s services.
John Vogl of the Buffalo News reported that the Sabres were confident Babcock would be joining the organization until receiving a phone call Wednesday morning that Babcock was going to Toronto.
Babcock was even asked pointblank at his introductory press conference in Toronto Thursday if he lied to the Sabres in the process. He denied that he had.
“I’ve been straightforward and honest will all of the teams,” Babcock said.
After the presser, Babcock informed reporters in a separate media scrum that the Sabres’ offer was actually bigger than the one he agreed to with Toronto.
Babcock says the Sabres offer was bigger. He wanted to coach the Leafs.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) May 21, 2015
The money was there, the organizational commitment was there. Babcock just liked one over the other.
That one is going to sting. It was pretty clear that the Sabres were real players all along, especially with multi-billionaire owner Terry Pegula showing a real commitment to his hockey club. Babcock noted in his press conference that he thinks Pegula is a “star” in the business and that he feels bad if Buffalo was unhappy with the process.
From the Sabres perspective, it’s hard to not be upset. They’ve had to deal with a lot of losing lately both on the ice and off. It hasn’t been easy and landing a coach of Babcock’s pedigree would have been a massive coup for an organization and a chance for fans to be even more excited about the future.
Adding futher consternation, Babcock was willing to go to a team on the front end of a rebuild, while the Sabres are a little bit further along in one of their own. By no means is it complete, but Buffalo has some pieces in place to start climbing back into respectability.
The Maple Leafs have a long, painful road ahead as Shanahan and Babcock repeatedly said Thursday.
What the Sabres don’t have is the history of the Maple Leafs and the aura of what Babcock referred to as “Canada’s team.” That makes it a lot tougher to win out in these kind of negotiations.
Toronto believes itself to be the “Center of the Hockey Universe” and they have a pretty good case to stake that claim. Buffalo’s fan base is committed, it’s passionate and there is a group in place that wants to bring a winner to the city, but it’s hard to compete against Hockey Mecca for a Canadian coach who feels like he can break a near 50-year-long Stanley Cup drought.
The great equalizer can often be money. This time it wasn’t. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Sabres as they look to make the most important hire in their organization’s history.