Here are the winners and losers in the Mike Babcock Derby:
WINNER: BRENDAN SHANAHAN
While Shanahan had no experience running an empire as vast as MLSE – or any empire for that matter – he had one calling card when he took over operation of the Toronto Maple Leafs: coalition building. Putting the right people in the right places, as he did in creating the Department of Players Safety with the NHL.
The first pieces he fit with the Leafs were Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter in player personnel – both highly lauded. He expunged Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis – also lauded, although not as timely as some wanted.
Then he landed Mike Babcock, the biggest free agent acquisition for the Leafs in recent memory and a game-changer behind the bench.
Sure, he has resources and riches other teams don’t possess. But that’s been the story for the Leafs for years. It’s easy to be all “TAKE MY MONEY”; it’s a different challenge to actually have someone take it. Shanahan met the challenge, and in the process restored credibility to the Leafs.
LOSER: TERRY PEGULA
The thought all along was that Babcock was leveraging Toronto against Buffalo and other teams, which is what every free agent in the history of man (and the salary cap) has done. But in reality, it was reversed: Pegula was offering upwards of $50 million too, solidifying the salary requirement Babcock had for the Leafs.
In the end, the Sabres didn’t get their man. Just like they didn’t get Connor McDavid. Consolation prizes remain prizes, but Babcock looked like a done deal on Decision Day Eve. Instead, he took the money and rank to one of the Sabres’ hated rivals. It’s embarrassing.
WINNER: DETROIT RED WINGS
The Wings reaffirm two important tenets of their franchise in seeing Babcock leave for bluer pastures.
First, that no man is above the Winged Wheel. Not Mike Babcock, not Scotty Bowman, not anyone. If Babs gets eight years and $50 million, he’s a demigod on a franchise that works best as a balanced machine.
The Wings were great before he arrived. They’ll be great after he’s gone.
Second, that the Wings look best when they’re the spurned, disrespected, chip-on-the-shoulder team, despite being an Original Six glamor franchise. Babcock leaving for the Leafs firmly establishes Detroit as the rejected underdog. They wear it well.
LOSER: THE PASSENGERS ON THE LEAFS ROSTER
Yeah, Babcock is going to have a hand in player personnel, and there is going to be a parsing of the rolls in Leaf-Land as he crafts the team in his image.
WINNER: JEFF BLASHILL
The 41-year-old AHL coach is expected to take over a playoff-worthy roster from Mike Babcock as the next Red Wings coach. His bargaining position couldn’t be stronger, having been framed as the ace in the hole in case Babs left. Which he did.
LOSER: DOUG ARMSTRONG
The St. Louis Blues’ flirtation with Babcock went public, which isn’t a good look when they haven’t made their call on Ken Hitchcock yet. On top of not actually landing the big fish.
WINNER: THE BUFFALO MEDIA
You know what’s easy? Writing about an object of public outrage, as newspaper and radio media in Buffalo take the knives out on Mike Babcock. Like this piece from the Buffalo News, which applauds the Sabres for doing all they could and questions whether Babcock – previously cast as a hockey savior – is actually one of the NHL’s best coaches after all.
LOSER: THE TORONTO MEDIA
You know what’s hard? Writing about an object of public adoration. Babcock is going to have a rather long grace period with Maple Leafs fans, along with the cover of a rebuild. The Toronto media loves nothing more than to chew up and spit out individuals with fat contracts and lackluster results; treating Babcock as anything less than the Pope for the next two years is going to have more than a few bitten-through tongues.
WINNER: EVERY OTHER ELITE NHL HEAD COACH
So if you’re Joel Quenneville and Alain Vigneault, two guys already making a rather large sum of money, how on Earth do you react to $50 million and eight years? Or Jon Cooper? Or really any other elite coach?
LOSER: THE NEXT BUFFALO HEAD COACH
While the Sabres have a deeper prospect pool than the Leafs, have Jack Eichel on the way and an owner looking to spend millions, they’ll forever know they’re second choice in the eyes of franchise and fans.
WINNER: MIKE BABCOCK’S EGO
The entire season has been like an extended tribute to Mike Babcock’s genius, and then he’s given the richest contract for a coach in NHL history. And if things go well, he could end a drought for the Leafs that extends back to 1967, which means a statue outside of the ACC ...
LOSER: MIKE BABCOCK’S LEGACY
... although this being the Leafs, this could be a $50 million boondoggle that we look back on as a misguided ego trip for both coach and team. Meanwhile, the Sabres win a Cup before the Leafs.
WINNER: STEVEN STAMKOS
"Hey, there’s no way Stamkos goes to Toronto in 2016! Leave Tampa for that dumpster fire!? Are you crazy?"
"Wait, Mike who? Babcock? For eight years?"
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