Mike Babcock: “At 52, I’m Not Ready To Die”

*This post was originally published on Black Press’s B.C. network

We’ve seen it so many times before, anyone who’s ever lived in Toronto or within its blue-and-white radius – that same glittering press conference-y background, that same Leafs TV logo on the mic, and the same promises.

So it’s hard to get excited or to believe something’s actually changing. That’s not cynical, I don’t think, even though the dream really came true and Mike Babcock really is Toronto’s coach. Truth is, this isn’t just a rebuild in Toronto – it’s, like, their fourth rebuild in 10 years.

The only way to do it is to wipe clean whatever wasn’t working, to sacrifice the well-intentioned lambs like Dave Nonis – like they’re doing in Edmonton, shuffling the deck so you can’t pin the past decade on the new guys. If this thing doesn’t work by 2020, the evidence from 2005 to 2015 isn’t valid in the court.

But on the day you empty the tub, you need a coach who’ll say the right things in that moment, which Babcock certainly did on Thursday.

“At 52, I’m not ready to die. I want to get on with it here.”

So much for legacy. His own, or the Leafs’.

Story: ‘Maple Leafs hire coach Mike Babcock‘ via The Surrey Leader (May 20, 2015)

“We’ve (my family) been chasing it our whole life, trying to be the best we can possibly be,” he told the gathered, frothing Toronto media and the pushed-to-the-edges, angry Buffalo media. “And maybe it’s time for another opportunity… We made this decision to come to Toronto.”

He said fear works, that it’s pushed him to where is now and that it pushed him to gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. Fear pushes him to Toronto, where the challenge is great and the reward is the unicorn.

“In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs,” he said. This was the best fit for my family. So you put the two together, that’s what happened.”

He was asked about the money, about whether any coach could live up to $50 million.

“The contract is simply a commitment from the Maple Leafs to success.”

Fair enough.

He was asked whether his contract included some clause that gave him ‘general management’ powers, a direct hand in trades and drafting and free agency.

The answer, in short, was No. But also this:

“I came here to be involved in a Cup process. That goes from scouting from drafting from development from analytics, from putting an off-ice team together, and on-ice team together.

“We want to build a team off the ice and on the ice that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of.”

Shanahan said he’s working on finding a general manager – if the general manager fits. But it’s getting close to that point where fitting doesn’t matter, with the NHL Entry Draft next month and with the Leafs on the clock at fourth overall.

Either Brendan Shanahan’s the general manager or there has to be a solution he’s about to sign off on. It can’t be some new-age hybrid nonsense, where Dubas and Hunter and whoever the third guy is takes three brains to make one pick, or where Babcock and Shanahan pretend they can only be interim bosses.

Because the great thing about Babcock is, he can’t step back. Not once he’s in the door. He’s like Seinfeld flying first class, refusing to go back to coach. I think he’d admit as much, and it’s obvious – he wouldn’t be worth the money if he was passive or satisfied with managing expectations.

“I love to win. I have a burning desire to win,” he said. “But I also want to win in the end – I don’t want to just get in the playoffs.”

Although I’m sure, at this point, Toronto would take it.

VIDEO: Wayne Gretzky on Babcock, his contract, and the capitalism of hockey

VIDEO: Tim Leiwicke praised Brendan Shanahan’s leadership, says Babcock gives Toronto a “character” and a “compass”