Not to rain on the parade (Stanley Cup or otherwise) but the Maple Leafs still have a lot of work to do before we even think about Lord Stanley returning to its rightful home. Sure, bringing in a guy with the pedigree of Mike Babcock to coach the team is a step in the right direction, but don’t think for a moment that Brendan Shanahan’s work is done.
The Maple Leafs President has to fix the current team that finished 4th worst in the league last season. He also has to install assistants, hire a new scouting staff, not to mention hire a new general manager. But at least he has been able to fill an important hole.
To his credit, Shanahan managed to convince a high-profile coach in Babcock to come to Toronto. I, for one, did not think it would happen. With many other teams vying for Babcock’s services, I suggested the Leafs would be better off getting a fresh face but also someone who knows how to win. This is why I thought London Knights Head Coach Dale Hunter would be the ideal man to coach the Leafs. A Cadillac would have been fine but Shanahan instead got a Lamborghini.
Some are wondering why Babcock would leave a successful organization to one that has been a “laughing-stock” of the NHL. Babcock owes his success as a head coach to the Red Wings organization. That was one reason I thought he would remain in Detroit. But also I think Babcock, like Hunter, enjoys a challenge as much as he likes winning. Like I’ve said before, turning around the fortunes of a franchise that has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 is a challenge.
Babcock also may have gotten sick and tired of seeing his players get pushed around on the ice each and every game and not being able to do something about it. As long as Ken Holland remained the Red Wings GM, Babcock would never have gotten the changes he needs to make sure his best players are protected. Now that he is in Toronto, and, for now, with only Shanahan to answer to, Babcock will get to put a team together the way he likes it.
From what I have heard at their news conference on Thursday, Babcock and Shanahan have set the bar as low as they could get. They say the team and Leafs fans will have to endure some “pain” over the next three or four years. But I believe they can turn things around more quickly. Having followed sports for a number of years, I know that the best people in the business often use mind games in order to help achieve their goal. If the Leafs win only 30 games next season and miss the playoffs, the thinking will be: that was expected. They are playing with house money.
Leafs fans can also expect to see a lot of boring games the next couple of seasons. Sure, the team may end up winning more games than they did last year. But unless Shanahan, or whoever the GM will be, gets guys that can regularly light the lamp, Babcock will implement a more defensive-minded system with the team he has now. I will bet there will be more espressos sold at Leaf games at the Air Canada Centre than beer.
It is interesting to see and hear how people, who for years hailed Babcock as a hockey genius, now all of a sudden feel he is throwing away a Hall of Fame career simply by signing with the Leafs. He is selling out they say. He is only going to Toronto because of the money as this misguided Habs fan suggests. You would think Babcock is going to be working for the Russians. But in reality, he leaving it (a.k.a: the Red Wings).
One last thing. What are the chances the Leafs land Steven Stamkos after next season as a free agent? I would have said less than 10 percent. After Wednesday, now that Babcock is head coach, I put it at least at 90 percent.