You may have heard the news: Mike Babcock is the new head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving Motor City for Hogtown after 10 successful years with the Detroit Red Wings. The 52-year-old will be introduced at an 11 a.m. ET press conference Thursday.
The story rocked the sport Wednesday, and hockey's best writers have been weighing in ever since. Below are a few of the columns we've had a chance to go through.
But for the Leafs, a team that could seriously use some good news, use a good coach, and use a freaking win for crying out loud; Wednesday was a great day. They used their assets wisely to improve. And given the decisions we’ve seen this franchise make in the past, that’s pretty impressive.
Year one, year two, year three - who knows how it goes. But with a full eight years inked, we’ll get to see how the man with the chiseled chin and hardened rep can push back against the elements in Toronto.
The Globe and Mail's inimitable James Mirtle writes that Babcock, a fiercely proud and confident man, wanted a challenge - and he got one, arguably the most challenging one in hockey, in coaching the Leafs.
Babcock believes in himself, as much as anyone in the league. He isn't afraid of risk. What he was afraid of was complacency, of riding out his career in Detroit, a place where he began to be taken for granted and where the glory days are beginning to fade.
For all he's accomplished - with the Stanley Cup in 2008, two Olympic gold medals and a tie for ninth in playoff wins with Toe Blake, despite only 12 years in the league - Babcock feels he has something to prove to the hockey world.
Or, better stated, he feels he has something he wants to prove. ...
Ultimately, what Babcock to Toronto is going to be judged on is where this team is in three or four years. Everyone knows they'll be bad to start, regardless of who's behind the bench, and he'll get a grace period - as all the big names do. But it'll come down to how much he wins.
Babcock being Babcock, he isn't afraid of that. That's how he wants it. That's why he's here.
The Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur writes that it was that very challenge - climbing hockey's highest mountain - that brought Brendan Shanahan to Toronto, and Shanahan figured Babcock wanted in on that action. However, Babcock's arrival elicits more questions than answers:
So now, the questions begin, and they won’t ever stop. Babcock hasn’t developed young defencemen well in Detroit; can he do it here? Can he be patient, really? Can he make Toronto’s best players better? If Phil Kessel stays, instead of being traded at his current low ebb, then what is he worth? The men who have coached here kept saying some people don’t want to change, and implied they can’t be changed. A man with a healthy ego would want to prove that he could.
Babcock chased the money, and he chose to climb the tallest mountain he could find. It might end in disaster, because that's Toronto. But the Leafs told him if you win here, Mike, they'll name schools after you. Brian Burke used to say that, before the job and the city came crashing down on him, but don't worry about that. They told him that if you win here, it'll be better than anywhere else. They don't know if he's right for this, the biggest challenge of his career. He doesn’t either. Everyone will find out together.
TSN's Jonas Siegel writes that what Babcock achieves is as much on Shanahan as it is on the head coach. Shanahan's task in rebuilding the Leafs has only begun, and he's got years of mistakes to clean up. Babcock's the mere start of that process:
Babcock, quite simply, doesn't achieve what he did for 10 seasons in Detroit - a Cup win in 2008, a Finals appearance in 2009 and more points than any coach since 2005-06 - without Ken Holland and a well-oiled Red Wings machine.
That success started with a system of internal development with no equal in the past two decades and indeed that's where it will begin for Shanahan and the Leafs. Even with Babcock on board, the culture of mediocrity in Toronto won't change until the organization begins to patiently develop the players it drafts each and every June.
That process, under the Shanahan emblem that is, began with the drafting of William Nylander last June, continued with the hiring of Kyle Dubas and OHL stalwart Mark Hunter, and will evolve further next month when the club makes two first-round selections. There's also the replacement of a scouting staff purged in April.
Outside of, and even including, the draft and development realms, the Leafs will also have to proceed with better care under the cap, a skill that evaded past management groups. ...
Landing Babcock was indeed a positive step, but only one of many Shanahan and the Leafs need to get right to turn the tide from a decade of dysfunction.
Grantland's Sean McIndoe writes that the winner in the Babcock sweepstakes isn't Babcock, although he is now richer than in his wildest dreams, but Shanahan:
Babcock may still be a good fit in Toronto; after a decade in Detroit, he’s clearly not one of those short-shelf-life coaches who wears out his welcome after three or four seasons. And the eight years on his new contract should certainly be enough time for even the hapless Leafs to get things turned around. At the very least, landing him gives the Leafs a boost of something they haven’t had for years: credibility.
And that’s why maybe the biggest winner here is Shanahan. He called his shot on this one, not so much with his words but with his actions over the past year. Talking a big game is nothing new in Toronto, but actually delivering sure is. Shanahan has already faced criticism of his approach to hiring - the team currently has no GM and just parted ways with its AHL coach. With the Leafs seeming to fall out of the Babcock picture in recent days, the narrative of a disorganized organization being led by a rookie, overmatched executive was getting ready to grind into full gear.
Instead, the Leafs actually got it done. Whatever you think of the fit for Babcock in Toronto, it has to be encouraging for Leafs fans to know that Shanahan was able to sell a smart guy like Babcock on his vision for the future. (Although the wheelbarrow full of cash probably didn’t hurt either.)
Yahoo Sports' Nick Cotsonika writes that Babcock, who loves to push the edge, has a chance to define his legacy in Toronto:
Don’t say the Leafs made Babcock an offer he couldn’t refuse. He absolutely could have refused it - the money, the challenge, the pressure, the hassle of TO - and still set a record for coaching salaries and had a better chance to win. He played the market and used all his leverage. He chose to accept the offer and everything that came with it. People will doubt him. He might have some doubt himself. But this is a chance to push to the edge. While we can argue whether it’s a stupid risk or a calculated one, it’s the kind that will activate him. His goal will be to push himself beyond the limits of where he is to the next level, to where he wants to be. And he wants to be the best.
Once upon a time, Babcock was not a hot-shot free agent. In 1993, he was fired by the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. He and his wife had a three-month-old at home. They had no money and few prospects. They started looking for teaching jobs. Nothing came of it. He ended up accepting a business consulting job – and then got an offer to coach at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. The team had never made the playoffs and was in danger of folding. He took the coaching job and won a championship, and the rest is history.
“The consulting job offered a lot more money, greater stability and a clearer career path,” Babcock wrote in his book. “Ultimately, I chose to take a risk.”
The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
That’s why Babcock is where he is today.
Finally, Eric Duhatschek writes in The Globe and Mail that we're about to learn a lot about Mr. Babcock:
In Toronto, Babcock will have input into player personnel decisions and the chance to help build something from the ground up. All important. But the opportunity to win isn't going to be there in the near term, not if the Leafs stay true to the program they outlined in dumping most of their former front office. Short-term fixes don't work. A long, painful rebuild is the only way to go. ...
Coaching the Leafs will require an inordinate amount of patience, until the player talent matches the organization's Stanley Cup ambitions.
This then will be the ultimate test for Babcock who, 13 years and 950 games into his NHL coaching career, has never quite faced the challenge that Toronto will pose. There are not many coaches more competitive than Babcock. How he handles the challenge of those early dark days will be worth monitoring.