The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs hired a head coach, a surly Brian Burke announced it was his pleasure to introduce Randy Carlyle. Every Leaf fan and media member groaned as Carlyle and top six forward Joffrey Lupul notably did not get along in Anaheim.
Carlyle likes his tough players as much as Burke does, often times too much which would be the case in the Leafs' only playoff run in eight years.
Not only was Carlyle disliked by many fans, he didn't appear to have he desire to give younger players a chance. Nazem Kadri was asked to play third and fourth line minutes, Jake Gardiner was often sitting in the press box. Things just didn't fit, especially for a team that struggles annually.
Before Carlyle, it was Ron Wilson who joined the Maple Leafs as head coach and soon, so did general Manager Brian Burke. Both Carlyle and Burke worked together in their respective positions with the Anaheim Ducks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
It pays to know people in this business. Wilson was just as surly as Burke and didn't have much time for the media. Unlike the 29th head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, things will be different when the season begins.
On May 20th, when he said he would make his decision, Mike Babcock left the Detroit Red Wings organization and joined the Maple Leafs on an eight-year contract worth in and around $50 million. Can you hear the heavens opening up?
In his ten seasons with the Red Wings, Babcock holds a record of 458-223-105, and one Stanley Cup to his name. In the ten years Babcock coached the Red Wings, he never once missed the playoffs no matter the circumstances to keep the 23-year streak alive.
Through his 12 years of coaching experience in the NHL, he has managed a winning record in 11 of those years including reaching over 100 points in eight seasons. Add to the resume two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada. (2010 and 2014)
Of all the coaches who have been through the system, there is not one I have been more excited or elated about than Babcock. Since the Maple Leafs so often do not make the playoffs, the Red Wings were an easy choice to adopt as my playoff team.
The way the Red Wings have played for the last ten years, their systems, their player development, their excellent drafting; there is no doubt Babcock had a large hand in all of that. What the Maple Leafs need is a lot of help in each of those categories, and they need someone who is an educator first.
When I was working in sports media every day, I would take a moment to listen or watch every Babcock press conference or interview from that day or game before. There is no other coach in the league that can answer questions with the poise and expertise Babcock emanates.
Every single time I listened closely I would learn a thing or two about the game. Always very small tidbits, but information nonetheless that couldn't be gathered any other way. Babcock is a very smart man, he has a work ethic like none other and treats his players like his equal, not his players. This is an attitude that has been absent from the organization since Pat Quinn.
When the Maple Leafs introduced Babcock on Thursday, he was his honest self and made it clear as Brendan Shanahan did, this would not be an easy fix and there will be downs before there are ups. We all want to be sold on an accelerated five-year plan to destiny. We all want our team to win the Cup as soon as possible.We all want it to come sooner rather than later because we are jealous, greedy, and impatient sports fans who want want want. It's the nature of the beast and Babcock knows in order to move forward, you need to let go of what has been built and build your own success.
But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
I don't believe there is a coach in the NHL that can do a better job than Babcock on whatever team he were to coach. In the last year years, he dealt with injuries to his best players more often than not at the same time. For months he used more than half a line-up of AHL players because they were decimated.
He managed to coach his team to a winning record without missing the playoffs. He did all of that not with luck, but with sound systems, communication, and understanding of what he needed from each player that night. If that doesn't sound like the jackpot to you, I don't know what would. He's the best coach in the league and now the Maple Leafs have him.