Babcock Speaks to Media For The First Time


We’re past the point of theoreticals, and it’s time to deal with absolutes. Mike Babcock is the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s going to be for a while yet. Today, he spoke to the media for the first time, and addressed the pressing concerns.

Why Toronto?

The new bench boss gave a bunch of reasons, from personal to professional. There was the story about how he told a friend he would one day, with his wife, live in the downtown core of a big city in a nice condo. There’s the fact that his kids are all going to be in school as of next year, scattered across the country. But the icing on the cake? Despite already coaching Team Canada to multiple gold medals in the past, he felt national pride was at stake. “I believe this is Canada’s team, and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map.”

It wasn’t an easy process, though, and nothing was set in stone. “I talked to lots of teams. When you talk to teams, negotiation is in that process. I had no idea where I was going.” Many were lead to believe that the Buffalo Sabres would be the team of choice, including the Sabres, but ultimately, talks with the family created the momentum shift. “We went back and forth so many times, trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. If you think Terry Pegula isn’t a star, you’re mistaken.”

Babcock admitted that he discussed term and financials with the Sabres, but denied that he committed and backed out. “That doesn’t go anywhere near who I am and what I’m about. I’ve been straight forward in the process with all of the teams.”

As it turns out, the decision wasn’t all about the money. In fact, Buffalo’s offer was bigger. Many will wonder what the price tag means to the team, but for the man getting the paycheques, it means more than the currency. “To me, it’s real simple. The contract is simply a commitment from the Maple Leafs to success. They made a long term commitment to me, so I understand they’re committed to the process. That’s what it’s all about.”

No Sharp Turns

Babcock made it clear that he wasn’t coming here to throw a wrench in the rebuild plan. “I never came here to make the playoffs. I came here to be involved in a cup process. That goes from scouting, to drafting to development, to analytics, putting an on ice team and an off ice team together.” It was a welcome contridiction to the narrative that had so many people concerned. “On game day I’ll be short sighted, but I’ve got a big picture in mind. So does Shanny, so does Larry [Tanenbaum], so do the others in our staff.”

While Babcock didn’t use the same “character” terminology, he plans on bringing a similar frame of mind to the team philsophy that Tim Leiweke was preaching for the mega-organization when he came in as CEO. “You develop people, you develop leadership. We’re going to be men, we’re going to be straight up and honest, and we’re gonna take responsibility for how we play. You don’t win without good people, and we’ll have good people.”

Interestingly enough, Babock has nothing in his contract regarding player personnel decisions, but Shanahan stated that he’ll have a say. “Whoever the head coach may be, I want his input. Do we want Mike to have his fingerprints in, and his input? Absolutely. I don’t think that’s a unique position for any NHL team.”

A New Group

Babcock showed enthusiasm, but mentioned that leaving Detroit wasn’t a decision he took lightly. “Change is exciting. Its envigorating, it gets you going. I have to be honest with you, Ken Holland is a great man and a good friend, and it was very emotional. I needed the Kleenex box out when I was in his office, because of what he’s done for me.” Given his ten-year stay and the success he had there, that’s of no surprise.

Despite seeing the Leafs play a bunch as a divisional rival, Babcock is making no judgements yet. “What I’ve always done over the years, is when we’re evaluating the other team, we say to ourselves ‘he knows them better than we do’. Lots of people have come here before, really good men and really good coaches, and it hasn’t gone as well as they’ve hoped. I’m going to get to know these guys, guys that are on the tema, and train them, and we’re going to grow together.”

A player he’s already familiar with, however, is Dion Phaneuf. He’s coached against him many times and has had him try out for Team Canada on a couple of occasions. A few months back, the Red Wings nearly acquired him at the deadline. Despite the speculation that he’ll shopped around, Babcock is excited to have him for now, but wants to grow him into an even better leader. “I’m going to get to know Dion, and he’s going to get to know me. I like to think I’m a straight forward communicator. I like to know what they want, I don’t want to read their mind. I want them to tell me.”

Bringing this team back into an age of success is going to be a tough task, but the 50 million dollar man is prepared. “They love this team here, there wouldn’t be all this people here if there wasn’t love for the franchise. Now we need to make it safe for the players here. It’s going to take time, but we’re going to do it.”

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  • Jeremy Ian

    It was an excellent press conference. Short on empty words and meaningless metaphors about compete levels and Stanley Cup parades. Lots of realism and long-term commitment.

    Also clear that there’s a deep partnership between Babcock and Shanahan.

    • STAN

      You and I agree the majority of the time. My only caveat would be with your last line.

      As a long time journalist, I would write, “it APPEARS there’s a solid partnership between Babcock and Shanahan.” Why? Because at the start of any professional, pubic relationship (especially this one) words are cheap and body language can be deceiving.

      But, yes, it was a mostly positive media session. The question I would have asked of Babcock was do you already know who you’ll add as assistant coaches? And, if the answer was YES, so who are they?

  • Jeremy Ian

    “… make it safe for the players …”

    Hopefully these means some protection from the same inane and/or inflammatory questions asked over and over by the runny nosed little weasels that make up most the Toronto hockey media (some writers here excepted). This would drive anyone nuts and a large part of why it is so hard to play in Toronto.

  • MacTwoTimes

    I wish I could quote exactly what he said in the little presser after (group of reporters around him). but basically was “i think these fans are smart. I don’t believe the fans are sick of rebuilding, I think they’re sick of the team saying its rebuilding, doing something else, and then it blowing up”. Couldn’t be more true. Do it right this time, I DO BELIEVE!

  • Derian Hatcher

    Firstly, and I mean this sincerely, I hope Babcock can turn the Leafs into a contender. The loyal fans deserve it.

    But this quote:

    “I believe this is Canada’s team, and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map.”

    …reeks of typical TO arrogance and entitlement. Who the heck anointed the Leafs “Canada’s Team”?

    There are six other teams in Canada – most of which have been markedly better than the Leafs for a long time.

    Gear down Mikey…and best of luck to you in the Center of the Universe!

    • MacTwoTimes

      Take into consideration that Babcock and his generation remember a time when eastern Canada saw the Habs and the rest of Canada saw Leafs games so to him and his ilk, it was Canada’s team.

      • ushaped

        Exactly. No need for people in other Canadian NHL cities to feel slighted. But the Leafs and Habs are the oldest teams in the league and therefore have the largest fanbases in Canada. Either one could be considered Canada’s team due to their longevity and the generations that have come before rooting for these teams.

        But as someone who also grew up in the ’70s, the Canadiens were always Quebec’s team due to the high number of Francophone players on the roster. The Canucks were pretty terrible early on so the Leafs being the older one based in English Canada was usually the one rooted for throughout the rest of the country.

        With apologies to WHA fans in their respective cities, the Nordiques, Oilers, Jets didn’t really exist in the national consciousness until that league folded and they entered the NHL. The Nords and Habs solidified as Quebec teams. Atlanta were terrible and not much was expected when they moved to Calgary. When they did, they along with the Oilers were always Alberta teams.

        All this to say that in Babcock’s generation up to the early ’80s, the Leafs were indeed Canada’s team. The numbers of Leafs fans that show up in every NHL arena when the team is in town demonstrates the team has the largest fanbase in the league. But I don’t think Babcock meant that as a slight against other Canadian teams or cities.

        What I do think is interesting is nobody has mentioned Babcock’s fierce Canadian pride possibly being a factor in choosing the Leafs. His comments seemed to completely support this idea. Wouldn’t it be funny for the NHL to have an all-Canadian Stanley Cup in 6-8 years between the Leafs and the Oilers!

    • jasken

      It’s not arrogance you do understand they use the same written junk over and over and just change the names of people and team name he forgot to change Canada’s Team from the cue cards to Toronto’s team let’s burn him at the stake. Really it’s people like you that are sad case for a sports fan seriously they use pre made speeches over and over if they miss something here or there you freak out and blow things way out of proportion when common sense would have made you laugh and say someone messed up on their cards. You honestly believe Babcock dont know who team Canada is with 4 gold medals at different levels you seriously are either foolish or ignorant.

    • Gary Empey

      I too was surprised by the statement ” I believe this is Canada’s team, and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map ”

      With two NHL teams and being a bilingual province, we can’t even say this is Ontario’s team.

      What I will say though ” The Leafs are my team. Always were and always will be”.

      As for the “…reeks of typical TO arrogance and entitlement”, I hate to think that is true, but there seems to be no other explanation for it.

  • Gary Empey

    Why do people get bent out of shape so easily? When the Maple Leafs come to town, your stadiums are filled with fans wearing Leaf jerseys and it is ALWAYS a sellout. When your teams play at the ACC there are a few (comparatively speaking) fans wearing your sweaters and cheering for your teams… so what?

    The Maple Leafs, deserved or not are the most popular team in Canada and have the largest fan base in the NHL… so what?

    Even as 48 year losers, their fans continue to be louder some other teams in their own buildings including that “other” team from Ontario… so what?

    It wasn’t arrogance, it was fact. Put away your insecurities and accept things for the way they are. Go cheer for whatever team you choose and stop worrying about anything and everything you perceive as a slight.

    If each of the other Canadian teams win a Stanley Cup before the Leafs, they will continue to be Canada’s team…. so what?

    Due to the Leafs success, they forgo major revenue in sharing with the poorer teams around the league and that includes the smaller market Canadian teams who are always crying poor, including that “other” team in Ontario.

    So what?

    Why not refuse the revenue generated by “Canada’s team” and then you can bitch all you want at the arrogance of the Maple Leafs.
    Have a great evening 🙂

  • STAN

    Truly a passionate, powerful press conference which according to Cathal Kelly drove a Toronto media ink stained wretched soul to tears. Yesiree Sir Edmund Hillary has been reincarnated to be the latest but greatest new saviour for the leafs.

    The media is a buzz, the fans are excited why even Rickey Foley probably donned a Phil Kessel Jersey after today’s sermon.

    The biggest win occurred for Bell, Ed and Larry as the bleeding of money has stopped as much to the amazement of M.L.S.E. a significant number of leaf nation quit at the same time as the leaf team gave up the season at the turn of the New Year.

    Similar to the N.F.L. which dominated the sports media for four months over deflation, the leafs with this brilliant p.r. move will dominate the C.O.T.U. for the next 4 months as the leafs begin their climb up Mount Everest from base camp one.

  • Paris_Trout

    I think the Canada’s team comment was masterfully calculated to incite the very response it got; wholehearted approval from Toronto fans and derisive anger from the rest of the country. It will hopefully re-ignite some great rivalries and be cause for the team to step up and really play.

    Also, I gotta say, watching HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic, I was super jealous of Detroit for having what appeared to be an absolutely amazing coach. I still can’t believe he’s here now.