TORONTO — Mike Babcock is in it for the long haul, and there is no out clause.
The 30th head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs strolled into the Air Canada Centre Thursday and addressed a thick swarm of media the morning after signing a record-setting, eight-year, $50-million contract in an attempt to end the hockey world’s most discussed Stanley Cup drought.
And Babcock made it clear that, although there will be fun times ahead, there will also be hurdles in Toronto.
“This is going to be a massive, massive challenge,” Babcock said. “Whether you believe it or not, I believe this is Canada’s team, and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map.”
Babcock said there will be no quick fix with the Maple Leafs, who finished 27th in 2014-15, but he wants to begin the process of building a Stanley Cup winner.
“If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming,” said Babcock, who believes Toronto’s original offer of a 10-year deal was too long. “I didn’t come here to make the playoffs; I came here to be involved in a Cup process.”
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, whom Babcock said was relentless in pursuit of hiring him, said that Babcock’s contract does not include a clause stipulating he will have input with player personnel but that there doesn’t need to be one. It’s normal for coaches to be included in those conversations.
“We made our financial pitch even before he went over to Prague,” Shanahan said. “We weren’t waiting in the weeds.”
Shanahan described the negotiations as less a sales pitch and more a series of candid conversations.
“Mike asked hard questions and I didn’t lie,” Shanahan said.
Babcock said he and his wife, newly empty-nesters, are starting a fresh life in Toronto with his kids all departing for college next fall.
“You want to be in an environment where people care,” Babcock said of Leafs Nation, noting the interest from Buffalo and Detroit. “This was a hard decision.”
Babcock said he and his family went back and forth with where to stand behind the bench. He revealed to a scrum of reporters that the Sabres’ financial offer was bigger than the Leafs’.
“In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs, and this was the best fit for my family,” he said.
“I have a burning desire to win,” Babcock went on, “but I understand how long the process is going to be.”
Babcock was asked pointedly about how close he was to joining the Buffalo Sabres instead.
“Did we talk terms and money? Yes,” Babcock responded, “but no firm deal.”
Shanahan said there is no timeline to appoint a new general manager and feels comfortable heading into June’s draft with assistant GM Mark Hunter calling the shots.
“Throughout the year Mark Hunter has been planning the draft,” Shanahan said. “If we find the right guy, we’ll move on the right guy.”
They’ve already proven that.
LISTEN: Scotty Bowman talks Mike Babcock’s joining the Toronto Maple Leafs