Opinion: Babcock Chooses Toronto Over Detroit

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As if losing that heartbreaking Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning just a few weeks ago was not enough, Red Wings fans found out Wednesday that their beloved head coach, Mike Babcock, decided to take his talents to Toronto to become the next coach of the Maple Leafs.

“I wanted Mike back if, at the end of the day, he wanted to be here,” general manager Ken Holland said when he spoke to the media Wednesday. “I know it was a difficult decision for him. He has roots here. His family has roots here. You get close to the players. We spent five days together watching the World Championships, watching Dylan Larkin. But at the end of the day, he made a decision that was best for him.”

Babcock’s decision was the money. He took the money and ran from a team that he has spent the last 10 years with. The Leafs will reportedly give Babcock $50 million over the next eight years in order to try and turn their disappointing franchise into a Stanley Cup contender.

Staying in Detroit would have been the safe move for Babcock. Out of all the teams interested in him, the Red Wings had the best chance of winning now. Holland has a close relationship with Babcock, and there is loads of young talent to work with as well as many more star prospects on the way.

The move to Toronto is puzzling for a few reasons. When the Wings met to clean out their lockers after being eliminated from the playoffs, Babcock said that the Detroit head coaching job was the best job there is. He said his family was happy in Detroit and praised the team’s effort in their 2015 playoff run. It seemed that Babcock was going to make his decision based on which team would give him the best chance to win now.

The two front runners for Babcock in recent days were the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs, two teams that finished the season 30th and 27th in the league respectively.

The Maple Leafs are a terrible team with a lot of problems. They have only made the playoffs once in the last ten years and are showing no signs of doing so again anytime soon. It will likely take Babcock the majority of his eight-year contract to turn this team around.

Going to Buffalo would have made sense. Owner Terry Pegula is known for having deep pockets as well as a desire to win. Babcock has close ties with general manager Tim Murray from his days with the Anaheim Ducks.

A management team that wants to win at any cost isn’t all Buffalo has to offer. It is likely that the Sabres will pick Boston University forward Jack Eichel in the upcoming NHL draft. Eichel is a once-in-a-lifetime talent who most would jump at the opportunity to coach. Even with a promising future, the Sabres finished dead last in the league. They have a long way to go before they can become a winning team.

When all’s said and done, Babcock chose the Maple Leafs as his next coaching destination. He gave Detroit ten remarkable years, bringing a Stanley Cup in 2008. But, like he did, it’s time for the Wings to move on. So what’s next?

The man who is most likely to fill Babcock’s shoes is Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill. Blashill has been one of the key contributors to the Wings’ continued success, as he has been the one responsible for developing his young players into NHL stars.

The Griffins are about to enter the third round of the AHL playoffs, but Holland said he plans on sitting down with Blashill within the next week to talk. Holland said his list of potential head coaches will only have two or three names, with Blashill being the leading candidate.

“Over the last few years, I thought he’s done a fabulous job in putting some younger players in our organization onto our team and developing them into players we think are going to help us going forward,” Holland said.

Red Wings fans shouldn’t worry too much about losing Babcock. Blashill has worked with guys like Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Gustav Nyquist, Luke Glendening and Petr Mrazek in Grand Rapids and has had great success in coaching them.

Blashill might not be on the same level as Babcock yet, but he, like the Red Wings, have tons of potential.