Mike Babcock is set to become the next head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Babcock is flying into Toronto tomorrow morning, when he’s expected to put pen to paper on a long-term, unprecedentedly expensive contract with the Maple Leafs.

The one thing MLSE can’t make excuses for is being outbid in any non-capped competition. There is some strange criticism surfacing on Twitter about MLSE “just throwing money” at Babcock, but there’s really no excuse for MLSE not to have made it very clear to Babcock from the beginning that they’ll offer a million more a year than any other team’s best offer. Why not? Think of all the money they’ve spent on bad players and management personnel in the last 10 years, many of whom they’re still paying. This is where the Leafs have to flex their money muscle and put their financial wares to a real competitive advantage; when it can buy one of the best hockey minds in the game. And they’ve damn well done it.

We all know what Babcock has won as a coach, in the NHL and in international competition. As we saw in Anthony’s great piece on what Babcock can actually bring to a team, Babcock has coached a top 5 possession team in six of the last eight years, and never did any of his Red Wings teams finish outside the top 10 in CF%. Perhaps the best single example of Babcock’s abilities behind the bench was when he managed to sustain their ridiculous post-season appearance streak in 2013-14, despite being on the outside looking in late in the season while dealing with a rash of injuries to their top veteran players. His teams are always really well schooled in the neutral zone and organized in their breakouts, and the results bear that out in terms of possession.

There has been a lot of noise about how the timing isn’t right for a win-now coach in Babcock. That assumes Babcock is entering this situation completely blind, which he obviously isn’t. Clearly the money and the allure of taking the biggest franchise in hockey out of the ashes to its first Cup in half a century has attracted one of the best coaches with the biggest egos in the game. This is a project and the biggest one in all of hockey. The challenge is huge and the rewards even bigger. If Babcock wanted a turnkey operation, he would’ve gone to St. Louis, or at least stuck with the program in Detroit.

While many have expressed concern about the timing of this, if it ruins the “tank” or if it changes the plan in some way, perhaps understated is what Babcock’s credibility can mean for this rebuild in terms of the stability behind the Leaf bench. Where a less experienced hire might get swallowed up by the market after a lean year and a half in the win-loss column, Babcock comes with the credibility and the contract to really see this through. This doesn’t necessarily mean the plan has changed. The only mistake would be in thinking the Leafs are going to be competitive the moment Babcock steps behind the bench.

 

The Leaf roster is littered with holes. There’s no first line center in Toronto and there’s no high-end number one defenceman. Babcock isn’t either of those, but he’s a presence who can instantly begin to transform the culture of this organization. We know from his track record he’ll introduce structure in the Leafs game and set an unyieldingly high professional standard. He’ll ensure young players develop in the right environment. A culture change doesn’t happen overnight with one hire, but ostensibly Babcock’s as close to a quick fix in that department as you can get in any one personnel addition.

That’s to say nothing of what his reputation and credibility might mean in terms of attracting other talent throughout the rebuild, be it players or assistant coaches (there is some talk Guy Boucher may still be in the mix as an assistant). This is a coach who is going to be involved in the front office decision making process, who can help develop young players the right way, who can attract talent on name alone; all things that help a rebuild, not hurt it.

As we mentioned in a post last week, it was always possible the Leafs not naming a GM before a coach might have been about Babcock all along. If we assume Babcock has been promised a spot at the management table and enhanced front office input, this may well mean the Leafs go with the group they have, perhaps giving the official GM title to Mark Hunter.

That’s all speculation and there is so much that will shake out in the coming few days, but the Leafs have just landed the consensus best coach in the NHL. Instead of stressing about what it might mean for the 2016 draft pick, take some time and celebrate the Leafs actually winning something of significance.

Welcome to Toronto, Mike Babcock.

Further Reading on Mike Babcock from Anthony Petrielli

Mike Babcock- McGill 2013 Honorary Doctorate address

A really good anecdote on attitude.

Previous articleMLSE Jet Scheduled for pick up in Detroit this evening
Next articleNews and Notes: Mike Babcock Fever
Founded in 2008, Maple Leafs Hotstove (MLHS) has grown to be the most visited independent team-focused hockey website online (Quantcast). Independently owned and operated, MLHS provides thorough and wide-ranging content, varying from news, opinion and analysis, to pre-game and long-form game reviews, and a weekly feature piece entitled "Leafs Notebook." MLHS has been cited by: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBC News, USA Today, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports, TSN, Sportsnet, Grantland, CTV News, CBSSports, The Globe & Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, Global News, Huffington Post, and many more.