If you’re surprised Mike Babcock ended up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, you’re not the only one.
In a sitdown interview with Sportsnet’s George Stroumboulopoulos on Thursday night, the new head coach of the Maple Leafs explained why the Original Six franchise appealed to him.
“When I came to see (Brendan Shanahan) and Mark Hunter, I didn’t know I was going to get excited,” Babcock said Thursday on Hockey Night in Canada. “I did 10 or 12 days ago. (I was) very impressed with Hunter, (Shanahan), and the plan here (in Toronto). When I talked to Larry (Tanenbaum) and the board (of MLSE), the commitment to the long haul, that got me excited. I met with tons of teams and enjoyed the process, I made this decision and I’m excited about it.
“It’s a thrill of a lifetime,” Babcock explained. “I’m from Saskatoon. I felt I was going to be a professor at McGill (University). You’re the coach of the Detroit Red Wings and now the coach of Toronto. It’s pretty special.”
Babcock, who signed an eight-year contract with Toronto worth $50 million, realizes he has a steep challenge ahead.
The Maple Leafs have made just one post-season appearance since the 2003-04 season and have not won or appeared in the Stanley Cup final since 1967. The club finished 15th in the Eastern Conference this past season with a 30-44-8 record.
Despite the franchise’s track record, Babcock is enthused to dig deeper into the work ethic and off-ice habits of the players he has observed from afar on the Maple Leafs’ roster.
“That’s the key part,” he responded. “I’ve never seen them work (up close). To be a good pro, you (need to) eat it, train it, and live it. You win with good people. Decide if you’re in.”
In the end, Babcock admitted it was tough for him and his family to leave his friend (general manager) Ken Holland after a strong 10-year run with the Detroit Red Wings, but he realized he was in need of a new challenge.
“I really felt it was time,” said Babcock. “Talking to (Holland), I was beyond emotional. We needed the Kleenex box. He looked after the Babcock family. We’re forever indebted, but it’s time to build new relationships and new opportunities.”