May 21, 2015

Calm down, Leafs fans, he’s just a coach

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

The Maple Leafs got their man and couldn’t be more excited about it.

On Wednesday, the team signed former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to a massive eight-year, $50-million contract.

The move arguably represents the biggest leap in coaching talent from one season to the next, but should the Leafs and their fans really be THAT excited?

Babcock’s deal is worth more than double the annual salary than the next highest paid coach in the league, Joel Quenneville. This is a deal that is going to anger a lot of teams and throw the coaching pay scale completely out of whack. When a guy like Quenneville, who won two Cups in the past five years, is getting that much less than a guy with just one Cup total, it’s a bit puzzling.

It should be noted that between Babcock, Nathan Horton and Tim Gleason, the Leafs are actually paying people $13.4 million per year to not play for them.

The next concern is why Babcock chose this job. With a contract like that, he’s clearly in it for the money. You could say that he wants to resurrect this once-proud franchise, but that’s certainly not what the optics say. This is a team that has been in disarray from the top down for a while now. A new coach isn’t going to change that.

As Gregg Easterbrook of TMQ fame would always say, “When you sign a coach that’s in it for the money, you get a coach that’s in it for the money.”

And if this is an ego play for Babcock, thinking he can turn around this gong show, well, he might be dumber than we thought, or he has an ego as big as Jose Mourinho’s – and a Special One, Babcock is not.

Also, are we sure that Babcock is the best coach in the league, like many are saying?

He has a great regular-season record, but looking at the teams that he had in Detroit, that should have been expected. His playoff record has been lacking over the past few years, including first-round losses in three of the past four seasons.

Of course, even getting to the playoffs is a milestone for the Leafs these days, so he could help on that front. Or will he?

The Leafs clearly tanked last season in hopes to win the Connor McDavid lottery – which they of course didn’t. With much more rebuilding left to be done, Babcock guiding this team to an eighth seed and an early playoff exit could only hinder this rebuild.

Some are also quick to point out Babcock’s success as the coach of Team Canada. Can we not agree that winning gold with the teams that he had is a bit overrated? You should be expected to win when you’re coaching Canada and anything short should be a disappointment.

It should also be noted that Babcock has never won the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. This honour isn’t always the greatest indicator of how good one is behind the bench, but you can’t argue that it is a big part of how coaches are evaluated in the long run – especially in terms of Hall of Fame consideration.

Then there’s Babcock’s style of coaching – does it really fit what this roster looks like? Shockingly, Dion Phaneuf may actually be a good fit to play the coach’s lockdown, boring style. A guy like Phil Kessel, on the other hand, is hopeless. A freewheeling winger isn’t exactly a good match for Babcock.

Of course, you can argue that a good coach adapts to what he has, and Kessel should put that to the test – if he’s still a Leaf when training camp comes around.

And for all those with such high hopes for this team, remember what happened the last time the Leafs hired a taskmaster head coach with a boring style, one Cup ring and has coached the Ducks before? Oh yeah, the Randy Carlyle era was a rousing success!

At the very least, you can say that at least this team has a coach now. That’s much better than where it was last season with Peter Horachek in charge.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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