Mike Babcock has been officially introduced as the 30th coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Full transcript and complete video of his introductory press conference below.
Mike Babcock’s opening remarks:
I too would like to thank Ken Holland, the Detroit Red Wings, the Illitch family for ten unbelievable years and opportunity for my family to grow up in one city. Very, very special times. I’d like to thank the board, Larry, Brendan, for this opportunity. I’m thrilled today to be here. I have to tell you, I felt like I was 25 years old, scared to death to be here. I’m excited for the opportunity and looking forward to the challenge. This is a great, great city, unbelievable fans. It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. I am proud to be here today. I look forward to the process, the battle, the pain, the fun, the journey. It’s going to be a long one, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Babcock on choosing the Maple Leafs:
I think the first thing was we went through a long process. I’m very respectful for Mr. I and Kenny for giving me that opportunity. It was also trying to figure out what was the best thing for Mike Babcock and his family for the next 10 years. We just had an unbelievable run for 10 years and enjoyed ourselves. I always think, “what’s the message to your kids?” I said to my wife, we’ve been chasing our whole life trying to be the best we can possibly be. Maybe it’s time for another opportunity, but the opportunity in Detroit, the relationship I have with Ken Holland and the Illitch family and the players there, is a very, very emotional thing to say the least. This was a hard decision. In the end we went through the process and talked to a lot of teams. I can’t tell you how much I learned, it was unbelievable. In the end, we made this decision to come to Toronto. I had a lot of opportunity to coach Canada’s teams and enjoyed that immensely. Believe it or not, I believe this is Canada’s team and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map.
Babcock on spurning and “lying” to the Sabres (questions asked by bitter Sabres reporters):
Well, the first thing is I talked to lots of teams. When you’re talking to teams, negotiation is in that process. The hardest thing for the media to do is to figure out where I was going because I had no idea where I was going. The reason was because it was hard decision. We change our mind – not changed our minds but we went back and forth so many times — trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. If you think Terry Pegula isn’t a star, you’re making a mistake. Or that Mike Babcock and Tim Murray didn’t have a great relationship, that’s wrong, too. In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs and this was the best fit for my family. You put the two together, that’s what happened.
That lying word is an interesting word for me. I’ve been in the public eye for a long, long time, I don’t think that goes anywhere near who I am or what I’m about. I’ve been real straight forward and honest throughout the process with all the teams I talked to and with my ownership. I worked for 6 years in Spokane, Washington and just worked for 10 years in Detroit. As head coach, you don’t work places for a long time if you don’t have good relationships and treat people right. That would be the end of that for me. Did we work on financial stuff and term? Absolutely.
Babcock on making the playoffs versus winning a Cup:
I never came here to make the playoffs. I came here to be involved in a Cup process, and that goes from scouting from drafting from development from analytics, from putting an off ice team together and an on ice team together. I love to win, I have a burning desire to win. But I also want to win in the end. I don’t just want to get in the playoffs. I want to win, I want to be here with these guys, we want to build a team off the ice and on the ice that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of. We have to create an environment that is safe for players. What I mean by that is, when you win every day it becomes pretty safe for the players. Right now it’s a hard spot. We’re going to change that, but it’s going to take time. As a coach, you’re in the day-to-day winning business, you understand it. I’ve been around a long time. On game day I’ll be shortsighted for sure, but I’ve got a big picture in mind. So does Shanny, so does Larry, the people on our staff. But if you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming.
When I talked to Shanny that’s what I heard: It’s going to be a process. What I like about the board here is they’ve made a commitment, a long-term commitment. In turn I’ve made a long term commitment to the Leafs. The plan is to grow the team.
Babcock on the leadership core in Toronto:
I’ve been real fortunate to have great leaders. Great, great people – Stevie and Nik Lidstrom and our group there in Detroit. Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Kronwall have packed me around for 10 years. I am forever indebted to those guys. We’ve got good people here, we’re going to acquire good people and we’re going to make them better. I am a school teacher, that is what I am, real simply. My job is make people around you better. I’m real proud of the fact that over the ten years in Detroit we helped players get better. We’ve got five head coaches now in the NHL, we got Stevie and Jimmy Nill running teams, you develop people. You develop leadership. What we are going to be is men. We are going to be straight up and honest and we’re going to take responsibility for how hard we play. That doesn’t mean we guarantee success every night, but we’re going to be responsible here and we’re going to have good people. You don’t win without good people and we’re going to have good people.
What I always have done over the years, when we are evaluating the other team and what the other coach does. We always say to ourselves, “he knows them better than we do.” There’s lots of people who have come here before, I’m not naïve, really good men and really good coaches and good people, and it hasn’t gone as well as they had hoped. It’s going to be a long process, I’ve said it right from the get go and I won’t back off that. It’s going to take time.
I’m going to get to know these guys, the guys on the team, at training camp. We are going to have good people on this team, we are going to have men, we are going to have people that are accountable.
Mike Babcock on Dion Phaneuf:
I’m going to get to know Dion and he’s going to get to know me. I like to think I am a straight forward communicator. When you work for people and they tell you want they want, I’m one of those people, I like to please them. I like to know what they want, I don’t want to read their mind. I want them to tell me and I’ll be straight forward in that way as well.
I think you have to help your leaders. I think that’s what your job is to help them do things right. You just do it right day after day after day. I’m a fan of Dion, I think he’s a good kid and works hard and tries hard. For me to comment on players here, I don’t think that’s fair because I’ve evaluated them from afar and to me that’s not what a coach does.
Babcock on justifying the contract:
To me it’s real simple. The contract is simply a commitment from the Maple Leafs, to success. They’ve made a long-term commitment to me, so I understand totally they’re committed to the process. That to me is what it is all about.
His level of input on personnel decisions:
I have nothing in my contract about that. Hunter and Dubas and Shanny and the group, we’re committed to doing this. We understand what the process is and what you’re going to have to do to make it happen. Mark Hunter is a guy I have an absolute tonne of respect for and have for a long long time. He gets players, and the only way you can get players is by having draft picks. We have to get him draft picks.
Shanahan on Mike Babcock’s input in front office decisions:
Whether in my view, whoever our head coach was going to be, I want his input. I don’t think that is a unique situation. Did Mike need it in his contract? No. In all of our conversations, do we want Mike to have his input and his fingerprints, absolutely. I don’t think that’s unique for any NHL team. It’s a collaborative effort, we all have to communicate.
Mike Babcock’s patience for losing:
I don’t know if I did. Won 19 games in Spokane one year and won the league the next year. That’s a long, long time ago. This is what I do know: I’ve coached a long, long time and I’ve worked for an owner and a GM in Spokane, Washington and they helped me along the way. We found a way to win on a continual basis. Ken Holland, we just went through a 10-year run. You make hard decisions along the way and you do what’s right for the organization. I have a burning desire to win. But I also know what you’re trying to do and where you are trying to go. I understand how long the process is going to be. One of the guys on the board said the other day, “When you acquire these companies it usually takes twice as long and twice as hard as you think.” I believe that.
Babcock on the lack of depth in organization:
We understand where we are at, too. I just saw the farm team play, they were playing Grand Rapids not long ago. I did a thorough study of all the teams in the NHL that I met with.
On handling the craziness of the market:
That’s a great question. I don’t think you can know until you live it every single day. What I enjoy about today, it’s obvious people care and you want to be in an environment where people care. This fan base here really cares about the Leafs and wants us to be good. They understand we are going to be in a long process here to get them where they want to go. I embrace this opportunity of coaching the Leafs. I came here with my eyes wide open, I know totally what’s going on. In the end I’ve made the right decision and I’m excited about it.
Shanahan on the GM hunt:
For me, what’s most important is finding the best fit. I feel there are some options out there. I felt at the time that it was more pressing to focus on the coaching situation. We have been involved since the get go with Mike. We have had some conversations with some potential people. My process, my plan hasn’t changed from the end of the season; it’s about finding the right people. I’m not as concerned about the timing; I think we are in great shape with the draft. If we find the right guy, we’ll move on the right guy.
Working with Shanahan, and an unknown GM:
Change is exciting, it’s invigorating, it gets you going. I have to be honest with you; Ken Holland is a great man and a good friend of mine, it was very emotional. I had to get the Kleenex box out when I sat in his office there because of what he’s done for me. When I took the leap of faith to go to Detroit, the salary cap had just come in. You took a leap of faith. I knew Ken, I know Shanny. I was a believer in Ken, I’m a believer in Shanny. Now we have to build a relationship over time. In hockey there is huge, huge emotional successes and huge defeats that are just tough. But through that time you stay the course and you keep doing good things and good things happen. I believe good things happen to good people, so you surround yourself with that.
Shanahan on his “honest” courting process:
When Mike and I first met, it was the very first conversation we had after we got permission from Detroit. It was difficult to me because it wasn’t a sales pitch in a way. It was very truthful conversation. Mike asked hard questions and I didn’t lie. I told him the truth. I got off the phone and wondered if I just made a huge mistake. From the beginning I outlined my vision; very early in the process we outlined what we were prepared to do financially. Very early in the process. We met again in Prague, and I reiterated again, nothing changed. I just kept hitting Mike with what our vision is here, what anyone here needs to expect and should expect. Mike’s questions for me were really not pushing back against the build and the vision, it was about what we were talking about here for the year; it was, do we have the ability as a city and as an organization to stick to it through tough times. Mike coming here was really wanting to make sure we aren’t speeding up the process, that we are sticking to the process. There was no last minute swooping in with a new idea or a new pitch or a new financial pitch. It was just hammering the same thing back to Mike, which was brutal honesty. We want Mike to be a coach and a builder. At the end of the day, it’s sort of funny; the teams that get pushed out early on don’t get their feelings hurt as bad. The teams that Mike might like the most inevitably will walk away with the most hurt feelings. At the end of the day, if it wasn’t us, we probably wouldn’t say, “yeah, we made it to the final two”; we’d have been upset as well. I saw in Mike’s eyes in Prague, it’s a hard, difficult, excruciating decision to make. Not just for yourself, but your family. Our focus on Mike again was consistent from day one to Prague, then we left it at that. Mike had his process, Mike came back to us. What he agreed to do was not some last minute, last hour pitch. What Mike bought into here in Toronto was what we talked about the first time we spoke.
Babcock on commitment from the ownership board:
When I talked to Larry, George and Guy about the process here, one of my questions to them was real clear: Are you willing to stick to it, are we in it together? When it’s hard, when it’s really hard, are you going to be in it? Are you for sure? Once I got that commitment, it was different. Just like Shanny said, it’s interesting, when I sat with Larry and Shanny the first night, they made me the offer that night; nothing changed that night to the end.
Video of Mike Babcock Press Conference