To say that the Leafs head coach speculation chamber has been burning for a while is an understatement. Randy Carlyle developed a group of skeptics early into his tenure, a tenure that lasted longer than many hoped. Peter Horachek did what he could, but his team ran itself into the basement. Needless to say, hopes have been high for somebody to come in and steer this systematically flawed ship back into fair seas.
Mike Babcock, for much of the past few years, has been considered a “dream scenario” by many. Today, that dream became a reality.
I think we’re all very aware of Babcock’s history at this point. The 52 year old native of Manitouwadge, Ontario started his coaching career at Red Deer College in 1988, winning his first signifcant trophy, an Altberta Provincial Championship. Of course, today, it’s insignificant, but it was the beginning of great things to come for a man who at this point was still in his mid twenties.
In 1991, Babcock made the jump to the WHL, and took over the Moose Jaw Warriors for two years. While he went back to the school ranks temporarily to win a CIS championship with the University of Lethbridge, he returned ot major-junior to coach the Spokane Chiefs, where he put up a 0.564 winning percentage over six years.
From there, he took the next step up the latter, joining the AHL’s Cincinatti Mighty Ducks in 2000/01. He spent two seasons with them, bringing them to the playoffs in both, before finally reaching the NHL as Anaheim’s bench boss. Babcock’s first legacy-creator came in his sophomore NHL season. While Jean-Sebastian Giguere’s heroics were the driving factor, good coaching definitely helped his team make a 15-6 playoff push that lead them all the way to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. He stuck with the team until the 2005 lockout, at which point he replaced Dave Lewis in Detroit.
Since then, Babcock has taken a team that everybody expected fade off into the sunset and helped them remain perrenial powerhouses. In his time there, Babcock has won more games than any other coach in Red Wings history, and taken the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in back to back years; winning in 2008.
Babcock has shown spectacular success at the international level as well, coaching the Canadian Men’s Olympic Team to Gold Medals in 2010 and 2014, and winning a World Championship in 2004. Babcock is the only person to enter the “Triple Gold Club” as a coach.
Babcock’s reputation as a coach aligns perfectly with several “new MLSE” philosophies, including an emphasis on puck possession, raw talent, game theory, and team building.
It’s going to be interesting to see what the next step is. For one, how does Babcock set up this roster? After all, this is a coach who has a history of winning and making competitive teams into better teams. The Leafs apsire to reach this plateau, but truthfully are quite a ways away from making it happen. In the mean time, I’m sure he’ll be essentially locking himself in a room with his eyes peeled on as much video as he can possibly find.
Also, the Leafs have to hire a GM. Typically, that comes first, but there aren’t very many general managers in the National Hockey League that would pick a coach not named Mike Babcock. That GM also has a draft to take care of in a month, some trades to work on, and free agency. Needless to say, a huge hurdle was crossed today, but there’s lots of work to be done.
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