Toronto can be a harsh environment, at times. For whatever reason, for decades now, the elements have conspired to erode whatever strengths the Toronto Maple Leafs could muster. Like moving water and whipping wind against rock - or maybe dirt, depending on your level of cynicism - everyone and everything, eventually, has given way.
As it might always, for all we know. The pressure, the spotlight, the decades of recent history fans would prefer to forget - all of it might be too much.
But what we do know is that a professional hockey team’s best chance to withstand the elements there is to build the strongest, most resistant rock they possibly can ... and see what happens.
With one of the game’s best coaches locked up for eight seasons, Leafs fans get to sit back and see how the perceived-to-be immoveable Babcock fares against the city’s unstoppable forces.
The problem for the team’s new bench general is that, while the tools for him to build the object are there, the materials aren’t yet. In fact, that seemed to be the leading reason the whole Babs-to-Toronto thing wasn’t going to happen.
But here we are.
And where “here” is, in general, is a more positive place in the big picture for the Leafs.
We don’t have a sniff of how the roster that Babcock’s handed will look - will the nucleus be remotely the same? You can rest assured the brass themselves aren’t even certain.
But to conduct a proper rebuild, I believe it’s crucial that your young players believe that winning matters - and that rolling over is embarrassing. I don’t believe that dressing beanbag chairs for a half-decade so you can draft high is the way to go from the basement to winning the Stanley Cup. (A few years in the cellar can help, fine - I just don’t think it’s all that savvy in the big picture.)
The concern in some corners is that Babcock will coach the heck out of a bad roster and void the Leafs’ shot at a top pick in 2016. And as it currently stands, it does look like he’s going to be coaching a non-playoff roster, which makes that a realistic concern.
But if you aren’t going to be all-out-awful-on-purpose for one of the top handful of picks, it’s surprising how little difference there is in the success of the first rounders beyond that. If you believe Babcock is actually a good coach - and it’d be awfully tough to hold some wildly contrary opinion - then you have to like the Leafs' odds of getting the most out of their selections.
Babcock is hesitant to use rookies that aren’t ready, which means more young guns will spend more time in the minors. When they’re up, they’ll be playing the same system as the AHL team, which allows them to play, not think. When they’re up, they’ll be exposed to maturity and responsibility in veteran form.
And when they’re ready, they’ll be up.
I’ve sung the guy’s praises before, so I won’t get too far into it here, but I think spending whatever - literally, whatever, it could be $50 million per and it wouldn’t change the fan experience - on one of hockey’s better coaches makes a ton of sense.
The Red Wings will be just fine with Jeff Blashill behind the bench, and the Sabres’ plan to turn the ship around isn’t wrecked by any stretch. There are plenty of good coaches out there, and losing a Mike Babcock for a Good Coach isn’t going to cost any club too much. Babs’ choice isn’t a crisis for any other team.
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: today 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.