By Mark Wilson
May 20, 2015

Aw shucks, ain’t it cute?

Mike Babcock is now officially the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s something I predicted would happen the SECOND Brendan Shanahan took over the Leafs’ morbid organization.

April 11th of last year, Shanny left the NHL front office to become the president and alternate governor with the Leafs.

“He’s going to hire Babcock,” I said on the radio.

There was no waffling; no wavering.

As the late Gerry Rafferty once sang:

“When I wanted you to share my life, I had no doubt in
my mind. It’s been YOU… woman… right down the

Just replace “woman” with “Mike” and that tune may as well have been an homage to what Shanahan and Babcock are about to embark on in Southern Ontario.

The posturing that took place since the Red Wings were eliminated by Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs only convinced me further.

Going BACK to the Wings?

Not an option.

Come on, let’s face it. TEN years is a long time to be the head coach in any pro sport.

In hockey? It’s a friggin’ lifetime.

The only two coaches that ever lasted that long in Detroit both came in the stone ages. Jack Adams and Sid Abel coached at a time where it didn’t really matter. The business of sports wasn’t NEAR what it is today.

Babcock is already the winningest coach in Wings’ history.

He also hasn’t done diddly squat in the post-season since getting to the Cup Finals in 2009. Babs came awfully close to winning back to back championships.

The last six years have been a study in mediocrity.

Detroit has gone past the first round of the playoffs just once in that time period.

That’s not to say Wings’ GM Ken Holland wanted Babcock outta here, it’s just that there was no more fight left in the dog to keep him around.

Meanwhile, Babcock flew under the radar and kept his status as one of the best, if not THE best, coaches in the NHL.

In ALL of hockey, quite frankly.

His work on the Canadian National Team solidified that reputation.

After a decade of rock and roll in Motown, it was time for Babs to CASH IN on his rep.

Buffalo, San Jose, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Edmonton?


Even as recent as this morning, the rumor was the Sabres were “this close” to bringing Babcock to Upstate New York. He had a relationship with Buffalo’s GM from their days in Anaheim and owner Terry Pegula has some deep pockets.

I didn’t believe it for a New York minute.

Why on earth would Babcock go to a near impossible situation?

The Sabres finished dead last in the NHL this season with 54 points. They finished dead last, or near it, in every single important stat category. The Sabres used FIVE goalies; none of them very good.

Plus… it’s Buffalo.

Did you all SEE the snow they got this winter?

Of course you did. How could you miss it?

Babcock put feelers out because Holland “allowed” him too. Allow is such a weird word since Babcock was going to be without a contract in a month anyhow.

He was free to go as he pleased.

Babs was free and Shanahan was ready to pounce.

Whether Babcock used the Sabres, Blues, Flyers, et al as a bargaining tool is dicey. Shanny KNEW he had to pay his man crush and he was ready to do so.

8-years, $50 million.

Hey, why not?

Toronto has the dough and a want to finally break the losing train that has the Leafs compared to the Clippers and Lions when it comes to professional sports futility.

The last time the Maple Leafs won Lord Stanley’s chalice, Moby Dick was a guppy.

Ok, I stole that line from Rob Parker.

Just wanted to give my “Parker and The Man” radio show co-host some love on that one.

Makes sense since this piece/blog/column is all about the love.

Leafs’ fans are DYING to love a coach.

22 names have come and gone since the Hall of Fame mentor Punch Imlach won a Cup in Toronto. It was 1967; the final year of the “Original Six.”

1968 brought expansion and the Leafs have barely been significant.

Remember, Toronto is a bastion of hockey integrity. It’s where the Hockey Hall of Fame resides. It harbored the once hallowed “Gardens.” The iconic blue sweater with the symbol of Canada is on the front.

To not have even been to a finals’ SERIES since ’67 is just short of hockey heresy.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Leafs’ “Mount Rushmore” of hockey coaches has got only two stone faces on it.

Hap Day and Imlach.

They are the ONLY two coaches to win Cups in Maple Leafs’ annals.

The 22 since, and Imlach is one since he returned to the bench for a ten game stint in 1980, are the reasons why we dub the Maple Leafs the… “Maple LOAFS.”

Red Kelly coached from 1973 through 1977.

There were high hopes for the Red Man but Kelly couldn’t deliver and finished just over .500.

Roger Neilson followed but lasted just 160 games.

A string of horror show coaches came after Neilson.

Floyd Smith, Joe Crozier, Mike Nykoluk, Dan Maloney, John Brophy, George Armstrong, Doug Carpenter and Tom Watt were simply awful.

They had awful teams to boot.

Pat Burns was hired in 1992 and even won a Coach of the Year Award in ’93. Hell, they knocked off the Wings in the playoffs which bought Bryan Murray a ticket out of Michigan.

But, Burns couldn’t get the Leafs into the finals.

Two more short-lived coaches later, Toronto hired another Pat.

Pat Quinn arrived in 1998.

He ruled for the next seven seasons.

2002 Quinn got the Leafs to the conference finals only to lose once again.

By 2006, the governors had seen enough.

Quinn’s 300 regular season victories rank second all-time in Leafs’ lore behind Imlach.

Paul Maurice, Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek round out the coaching log for the good folks in Canada’ largest city.

Babcock will be the third coach in this calendar year.

At age 52, Babs was ready to tackle a REAL challenge.

I mean, come on.

When Mike got to Detroit, he rode in on the heels of the Scotty Bowman era.

Dave Lewis had replaced Bowman but was let go after two failed efforts following the 2002 Stanley Cup triumph.

Along came the lockout and Lewis never returned. Babcock was hired away from Anaheim where he led the Ducks to a Cup Final loss to New Jersey.

He was 42 at the time and considered one of the best in the game THEN.

A decade hasn’t sullied that reputation.

When the lockout was over and the NHL was back in business, Babs had a good nucleus of players to battle with.

One of those players was Brendan Shanahan.

Shanny’s 2005-06 campaign would be his last in a winged wheel sweater.

All Brendan did with that opportunity was turn in his best season points-wise since his FIRST in Detroit, 1996-97.

He scored 40 goals and added 41 assists for 81 points.

Shanny played in all 82 games for Babcock and could eyeball his coach as a reason why he was able to play another three seasons in the league.

Sure, he left Detroit after 2006 for New York, but the relationship had been forged.

Fast forward in the Hot Tub Time Machine ten years and the two are back together; skipping down the lane singing Kumbaya.

50 million reasons for Babs to be happier than a clam.

One of the reasons that Holland and Jimmy Devellano aren’t running down Woodward in a Detroit panic, is a guy who happens to be about the same age as Babcock way back when.

Jeff Blashill is 41 and has been the Wings’ “coach in waiting” since he left Western Michigan University to join Babcock’s staff in 2011.

A year on the pine led to a head coaching position with the Wings’ top minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Blashill is the highest paid coach in the minors.

For a reason.

It was assumed that Blashill would hone his pro coaching chops in time for Babcock’s departure.

Let Holland talk ALL he wants about a “coaching search” but, it stops along the I-96/131 corridor.

The Griffins will be looking for a new leader once Blashill is introduced as the new Red Wings’ head man.

Kind of too bad too.

There are some fun coaching names out there.

I wish George Gwozdecky would get a good “look-see” in the NHL.

“Gwoz” is currently an assistant to Jon Cooper in Tampa. He’s the only coach in college hockey history to win an NCAA title as a player, assistant and head dude.

In fact, he won TWO trophies at the University of Denver.

Maybe some are put off by his age. Gwoz is 61 but a very young 61 and doesn’t look at all like 61.

The Lightning’s quick rise back to power in the eastern conference can be attributed in part to what Gwozdecky brings to the table in Tampa.

Dan Bylsma is another intriguing name.

The guy who BEAT Babcock for the Cup in 2009 with Pittsburgh, has been on the beach looking for work since getting dumped by the Penguins last year.

Bylsma also happens to be a Michigan native; hailing from Grand Haven.

It’s possible he could be headed for San Jose.

Dominos will begin to fall now that Babcock is off the market.

Not that he was ever really ON the market.

I believe in the back of his mind, he knew it was Toronto all along. He wants to do something with Shanahan. He wants to make it happen with the Leafs.

Writing my previous piece on Babs, I said that he would be a GOD if he wins over there.

Hoisting a Stanley Cup after 48 long moons?

Are you kidding me?

You think they know how to party in that city with a mayor like Rob Ford, you ain’t seen nothing like the celebration that would occur on Cup championship night.

Toronto might spontaneously combust.

The reverb would be felt to Hamilton.

At that point, Mike Babcock would be carried out of the Air Canada Centre on the shoulders of the citizenry and dumped in a big vat of Labatt’s Blue.

After all, it is HOCKEY eh?

Some traditions die hard. Not that dumping a coach in a beer vat is a tradition but they’ll make new ones in Toronto for a Cup crown.

Honestly, they probably wouldn’t know HOW to celebrate a Cup.

Jim Pappin is the last Toronto player to win an MVP in a post-season and he’s 75 years old.

He’d probably don goggles and a wet suit to jump in that vat with Babcock.

Well, we’re all going to find out.

Shanny made Babs and his family very happy and very rich; rich beyond their wildest expectations.

Hockey coaches just aren’t supposed to make an average of $6.25 million per annum. That’s supposed to be college football and basketball money; especially since the NHL does not have a mammoth television deal.

And the eight years?

That’s just for fun. Babs could be let go anytime. So, it’s predicated upon him to get it cooking in Toronto.

The Leafs are back on the ice rink map. They are ready to take this sucker to a new level. Shanahan is primed to show the hockey world what he can do fashioning a club.

It’s all sunshine and licorice. You can FEEL the warmth emanating across the border. It really IS all about the love.

For now.