The theory on Mike Babcock, perhaps the most high-profile coaching free agent in NHL history, was that he would leave the Detroit Red Wings to chase the money, seek a new challenge and look to win a Stanley Cup in short order.
Two out of three ain’t bad. Mike Babcock is the next coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with an NHL record contract for a head coach.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet was the first to confirm that Babcock has agreed to an 8-year conract, that might have an out clause after five years. He reports it’s a front-loaded deal – the CBA doesn’t govern those for coaches – with a ton of money up front. He said there was talk about Babcock having a role in player personnel, potentially working with MLSE president Brendan Shanahan in that role.
Darren Dreger nailed down the money: Around $50 million for Babcock over the life of the deal, which means an annual salary of over $6.25 million. Bob McKenzie reports the front-loaded deal will net Babcock $8 million per season in the first three years.
That means he'll make more money next season than every player on the Toronto roster safe for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.
The Mike Babcock Watch took over the hockey world on Wednesday, the day on which he determined he’d make a decision. The Buffalo Sabres, where Babcock had a personnel connection with GM Tim Murray and with significant financial backing from owner Terry Pegula, announced they were out in the morning. The Detroit Red Wings were next, as Babcock decided not to return to the team. The St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks, two teams that had sought permission to speak with Babcock, were soon out too.
That left the Toronto Maple Leafs – the team without a general manager, the team seeking its first Stanley Cup since 1967.
And the team that landed the biggest fish in the coaching pond.
Babcock has a career record of 527-285-119 with 19 ties, for a .627 winning percentage. He’s missed the playoffs once, in his second season with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2004. He coached the Red Wings from 2005-2015, and won the Stanley Cup in 2008 along with conference titles in 2008 and 2009.
But he has cache beyond the NHL, with two gold medal victories with Team Canada. The notion that Babcock would attract free agents, in players and management, to Toronto who otherwise wouldn’t flock there isn’t outlandish.
What a day for the Maple Leafs, who stumbled through another year of Randy Carlyle waiting for a better candidates. And what a day for Brendan Shanahan, the former Red Wing (he played for Babcock in 2006) who transitioned from the NHL Department of Player Safety to take over operation of the Maple Leafs empire with the promise of a new regime and prosperity in Toronto.
He used the Leafs’ bottom resources to land arguably the best coach in the NHL.
And what a day for Babcock, who has more confidence (and ego) than a human being should be able to possess. He had comfort in Detroit. He could have had the lowest of expectations and millions in his pocket in Buffalo.
Instead, he opted to become the coach who finally brings the Stanley Cup back to Toronto.
He chose the challenge of all challenges.
Well, and over $50 million in front-loaded salary. That too.
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