I've been thinking lately about the idea of Mike Babcock coming to join the Leafs. Now, it seems pretty unlikely that a man of his stature would leave the good thing he has going in Detroit for a tire fire like Toronto, especially when you consider how much flak coaches of bad teams take, and how wearing the Toronto media can be.
But let's set that aside for a minute and simply consider whether or not Babcock would be a good fit for the Leafs.
The thing that really got me thinking about Babcock is this Leafs Nation article. They list a lot of his accomplishments of which yes, there are many. To me though, the piece ends on a more interesting note with the following two points:
While I agree that Babcock is, for his own part, responsible for Detroit's continued success, I think that his greatest work comes from working with Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics.
Sure, sure, it's easy to look good behind a roster like Canada's, but ceding 3 goals in 6 games against teams that were almost just as lethal? The only way I can describe watching Canada beat the States in the semi-final match is like watching the insides of a clock turn perfectly.
It wasn't exciting hockey per se, but it was jaw-dropping mastery of systems. Players were exactly where they needed to be, all the time.
Scarcely a single stick was out of place, and the stifling possession game that Canada played eventually amounted to the tightest defensive hockey that I have ever seen in my life. There was no trapping; they just had the puck all the time.
The lesson that is important for Leafs' fans to take away from this is: with a set of players that would do exactly what he instructed them to do, Mike Babcock beat the very best that the rest of the planet had to offer. If you do what this coach says, good things happen.
This paragraph introduces two ideas that I struggle with in different ways: 1) Babcock is over-qualified and 2) that he would prevent the team from falling into a tank position, and that instead the MLSE board would be encouraged enough to start spending on free agents again.
First of all, I don't see how Babcock is 'overqualified'. The Leafs should seek out the best possible coach available, and get him while they can. It's certainly possible that the best fit for the team may not be Babcock - I'm certainly not opposed to them going somewhat off-the-board to find someone who will work well with Shanahan and Dubas - but there is no reason to think that a lesser coach is a better idea. In fact, I'm not sure there's even a huge difference.
If Babcock comes in and really improves things, how much would the Leafs' pick change anyway? Instead of drafting 4th, would they draft 6th? 8th?
The Leafs' odds of making their team better via the draft wouldn't exactly wither away to nothing by adding a coach, especially if the team acquires a large number of picks in a quantity vs. quality exchange. This is all relevant to the second point about being able to acquire elite talent in the draft.
If the Leafs wind up being terrible for a few seasons, the high draft picks are a nice consolation prize, but I wouldn't want to see Shanahan and Dubas actively planning for the team to be terrible.
You want the team to get better every year without giving up young assets or picks, not say 'let's hire some dummy for a while to run things into the ground until we have a few prospects in the cupboard'.
In short, I'd be thrilled if Mike Babcock wanted to join the Leafs because I don't see the downsides - lower picks and a quicker turnaround - as such huge threats to the Leafs' rebuild, especially if you consider all the positives.
The Leafs would likely play a possession game, win more often, get great coaching for their important young players, and in the end, those are better for the long-term success of this team than a draft pick moving up a handful of spots.
If Babcock doesn't have any interest in joining the Leafs, no one would be surprised. If he didn't want to work within the team's current managerial structure, I would understand.
I could even understand if the team wanted a young coach who would grow with his team. But I see no reason to think that Babcock would have anything but a positive impact on the Leafs as an organization, and I think we'd be crazy to give that up for a tank job.