“There’s pain coming… But at 52, I’m not ready to die. I’m ready to get on with it.”
Mike Babcock couldn’t have said it more plainly: The road ahead is long and arduous, and for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it will well and truly suck. However, everything said at Babcock’s initial press conference gives the impression that there is indeed a bright light at the end of this tunnel.
“I’m looking forward to the journey. It’s going to be a long one. But it’s going to be a lot of fun… I never came here to make the playoffs. I came here to be involved in a Cup process. I want to win… I have a burning desire to win …”
There’s a reason to believe that the Leafs will compete for the Stanley Cup before this rebuild is over. Babcock’s deal is eight years long, giving him both job security and the time necessary to mold this team into a winner. When asked about the term of the contract, Babcock replied,
“They’ve made a long-term commitment to me… In turn, I’ve made a long-term commitment to the Leafs and our plan is to grow the team…”
The fact that Babcock was interested in coming to Toronto after he was approached by Brendan Shanahan may have surprised many. Yet the sought-after former coach of the Red Wings was clear in his desire to be part of a rebuild, and it helped that he was convinced of Toronto’s commitment to such a rebuild. Additionally, Babcock and his wife wanted to live in a downtown area, making Toronto all the more appealing. Finally, the man is nothing if not an extraordinarily proud Canadian:
“I believe this is Canada’s team and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map.” – Mike Babcock #TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 21, 2015
This team is going to take its lumps over the next few years, but they could not have hired a more able man to guide them through those tough times than Babcock, whose passion for winning is matched by his ability to be patient when things aren’t going the way he would like them to go.
Some might say that Babcock will have the Leafs winning a few more games than they would have with another coach, and that this might push the Leafs down the annual draft ladder, possibly out of the top ten in the coming years. Even if that happens, I wouldn’t worry. With Mark Hunter’s eye for young talent, the Leafs will begin drafting and developing future NHL players regardless of where they pick. They had assembled a pretty good team, but Babcock’s addition makes them immediately better by leaps and bounds. They still have to hire a general manager, but with Babcock behind the bench, the job surely just gained a host of able and talented candidates.
We don’t know what else lies ahead for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but if step one of the “Shanaplan” was hiring Mike Babcock, I believe that Leafs fans will finally begin to see the light at the end of this long and difficult tunnel.