The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the bidding war for the services of now-former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, signing him to an eight-year, $50 million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: After weeks of speculation and reports claiming the Leafs had little or no chance to sign Babcock, they outbid the Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres for his services. Babcock claimed that his decision wasn’t all about the money, but the Leafs gave him 50 million reasons to join them.
Babcock, 52, faces the biggest test of his lengthy and successful NHL career: helping turn the moribund Maple Leafs, who’ve made the playoffs only once since 2005-06, into not just a perennial playoff contender, but also a Stanley Cup contender. That’s the mission statement of Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who must also hire a new general manager andrestock his front office before the NHL Draft next month.
The new Leafs head coach is likely to have considerable sway in player decisions and the makeup of his coaching staff. When training camp opens in September, Babcock could have a roster considerably different from the Leafs’ current one. Top stars Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are among those believed on the trade block this summer. Perhaps the addition of Babcock changes their trade status. Perhaps not.
Landing Babcock was a big catch for the Leafs, but their fans must not expect him to produce instant success. The club is undergoing a complete overhaul, which means it could take three seasons (depending on their draft picks, trades and free-agent signings over this period) to at least make them a playoff contender. It will take time, but with Babcock behind the bench, it could prove well worth it.