Mike Babcock wants to put Leafs 'back on the map'
New head coach aims to turn around underachieving team
Mike Babcock said "it's time to put Canada's team back on the map" Thursday during a packed news conference introducing him as the 30th head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Babcock, though, stressed that it won't be easy to turn around the underachieving franchise.
"This is going to be a massive, massive challenge," he said.
The Leafs stunned the hockey world on Wednesday by luring the heavily recruited Babcock away from Detroit, and several other suitors, with a reported eight-year contract worth $50 million US.
Babcock will reportedly earn more than twice as much annually as any other coach in the NHL, but he said there is "nothing in my contract" that gives him power over player-personnel decisions.
The 52-year-old led the Red Wings to the playoffs in each of his 10 ("unbelievable," as he called them) seasons with the team, and won the Stanley Cup in 2008. He also guided Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014, and a world championship in 2004, making him the only coach to win hockey's top two international titles along with the Stanley Cup.
'Long' rebuilding project ahead
Babcock joins a Toronto club that missed the playoffs for the second straight year, leading president Brendan Shanahan to dismiss general manager Dave Nonis and interim head coach Peter Horachek, who took over in mid-season for the fired Randy Carlyle. Shanahan has yet to hire a new GM.
Both Shanahan and Babcock repeatedly alluded to a lengthy rebuilding process ahead, and there is speculation that the Leafs may consider moving high-paid stars Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf in an effort to start over.
"I'm looking forward to the process, the battle, the pain, the fun and the journey," Babcock said. "It's gonna be a long one, but it's gonna be a lot of fun."
The coach's potential destination had been a hot topic for months, and the speculation ramped up after Red Wings GM Ken Holland gave him permission to speak to other teams before Babcock's contract expired in late June. Holland said the team that lured Babcock away would owe Detroit a third-round draft pick as compensation.
The Babcock watch reached a fever pitch on Wednesday, when the coach promised he'd reach a decision. Buffalo was considered the front-runner after reportedly holding a second round of talks with Babcock on Tuesday, but the Leafs won the bidding war.
On Thursday, Babcock sidestepped questions from two Buffalo media members who made the trip up the Queen Elizabeth Way to ask whether he walked away from a deal with the Sabres.
Babcock confirmed he "absolutely" discussed money and contract length with Buffalo, and maintained he was "real straightforward and honest" with the teams he visited.