Like many in the hockey world, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner J.S. Giguere was shocked to hear Mike Babcock had chosen to go to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I was expecting Buffalo, maybe San Jose,” Giguere told Dean Blundell & Co. Friday. “I thought those were great fits for him too. Mike being Mike, he loves a huge challenge and Toronto definitely is one.”
Part of the challenge will be how Babcock’s presence will affect the current stars on the Leafs.
Prior to the Babcock hiring it seemed like a foregone conclusion star forward Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phaneuf would be traded in the off-season.
However, Giguere, who was coached by Babcock for two seasons in Anaheim, feels the new Leafs bench boss will be able to spark Kessel and Phaneuf better than previous Leafs coaches and see them return to the calibre of players who warranted $64- and $49-million contract extensions, respectively.
“Randy [Carlyle] is definitely more of an in-your-face type of coach, you know yelling at you and stuff like that. Even though he’s a good coach that wears very thin on the players very fast,” Giguere explained. “I think Babs uses lots of psychology. He tries to get in your head, but he has a different way for every player.
“I think maybe he’ll find a way to get Phil Kessel going in a different way that he’ll find to get Dion [Phanuef] going and maybe [Jonathan] Bernier going. He’s very smart that way, very ahead of the times and it should be pretty refreshing for the players…I remember when I had him as a coach, we all respected him.”
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Phaneuf expressed enthusiasm when asked about Babcock Thursday.
“I’m excited. And the guys are excited, too. It’s big for our fans and our organization,” Phaneuf told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman after speaking with a few teammates. “There was a lot of interest in where he was going to go, and rightfully so. You want to play for a coach of his calibre…You can see how prepared he is, how he makes a plan. He’s won at every level and I’m looking forward to working for him.”
It just so happens Kessel and Phaneuf are the only two current Leafs set to earn more than their coach next season. Babcock’s massive eight-year, $50-million contract was a result of him being the consensus best coach in all of hockey.
“He’s a great coach,” Giguere said. “He’s super intense and I think the Leafs can use that. There’s no doubt about that. At the end of the day, if you’re serious about winning and you’re serious about getting better and improving as a team well he’s the guy for it.
“He’s super prepared. You’re never going to catch him off-guard with a question. An opposing coach is not going to surprise him with a line change. He’s always the guy that’s ahead of the game. He’s intense and you have to deal with that on a daily basis, but at the same time he’s a great human being and you get to appreciate him as a coach.”
The Leafs were an undisciplined group both on and off the ice, which is something Giguere says should change under Babcock.
“He wants you to be prepared. He wants you to be a pro and I think when you have a young team that’s the most difficult part — for those guys to act like pros on and off the ice.”
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