It certainly sounds like Hockey Canada will name its coach for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey soon.
It could happen as early as next week, but it will definitely happen before American Thanksgiving (Nov. 26).
All indications point to Mike Babcock getting the job. After all, he coached Canada to the last two Olympic gold medals, and some would view the incumbent deserves to keep the position until he decides to opt out, or until the team loses.
But should Babcock be the man? Is there someone more deserving that Hockey Canada should in fact be giving the chance to coach Canada’s elite?
To be clear, Mike Babcock has done nothing to change the minds of many around the game that he is one of the best — if not the best — in the game. But his relocation to the Toronto Maple Leafs has changed everything. He doesn’t have the luxury of working for a deep organization that preaches patience and development anymore. From from office to training staff, the Leafs are a work in progress.
The support he received from everyone who believed in the “Red Wing Way” allowed the coach to create a system of interchangeable parts that made training camp and the regular season a much simpler world of observation and transition. He does not have that in Toronto yet. The system he is building for the Maple Leafs is far from complete. His relationships within the organization are still being formulated and quite frankly, I’m not sure he will be able to afford to be away from the Leafs during what will be just his second training camp in order to coach Canada — especially when there might be someone just as deserving as Babcock to coach the team, and who could actually afford to be away from his team after seven training camps with the squad.
That’s why Joel Quenneville should coach Canada.
Quenneville has worked long and hard to hone his craft as an elite coach in the NHL. He has had success in St. Louis and Denver before adding championship experience with the Chicago Blackhawks. And not just one championship — it is now up to three times in the last six seasons, and counting.
His ability to strategize against the game’s best is part of his success in Chicago. His ability to motivate some of the best players in the game — true superstars — is part of his success in the game. Quite frankly, he is as much a winner as any coach in the past 30 years, but does not seem to get nearly as much credit.
Quenneville’s coaching flies under the radar in the NHL because it is overshadowed by the tremendous success of the Blackhawks as a whole. There is plenty of much-deserved credit to John McDonough, Stan Bowman, Jonathan Toews, Jim Cornelison and even the great fans in Chicago. There isn’t enough praise or attention given to Joel Quenneville. In the time that he has coached the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups, Quenneville has never won the coach of the year.
Mike Babcock has a bigger job in rebuilding an organization in Toronto that he has committed to for eight years than he has to Hockey Canada for 18 days. The talk of ensuring the system of play in the AHL is the same in the NHL is not a simple task.
Babcock and Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe and their staffs have not been together long enough for Babcock to miss a September of NHL training. In watching the Leafs so far this year, there is a case to be made that the turnover of players in Toronto will be greater next summer than it was this past off-season. Babcock has a responsibility to be on the ice with that group, as he and Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello, Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter try to mould the Leafs into a contender.
The players who will wear Blue and White should be far more important to Babcock than those who will wear the Red and White. He should be coaching the Maple Leafs in the pre-season for just the second time and give someone else a chance to maintain Canada’s status as hockey’s elite power.
And quite frankly, Mike Babcock should make the decision himself not to coach Canada, rather than force Hockey Canada to make a decision out of loyalty. This early in his tenure in Toronto, Mike Babcock should coach just one team. A team that needs his guidance and touch far more than the a team of stars.
So when Doug Armstrong names the coach, it will probably be be Mike Babcock. But should it be?