Maple Leafs get their man


Well, it took some time but the Leafs finally got their man: Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medal-winning Mike Babcock, considered by many to be the best pucks coach in the NHL.

He leaves the Detroit Red Wings (and their 24-season streak of making the playoffs) for the lowly Leafs for a front-loaded 8-year contract reportedly worth $50 million. That makes him the highest-paid coach in NHL history. A press conference has been scheduled for Thursday morning to make it official. Season ticket holders should be happy.

But let’s be very clear here: while the Leafs got a highly-prized coach, Babcock was likely sold on the terms and the cash offered by the Leafs majority owner Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), more than the prospect of coaching a team whose captain just days ago was rumoured to be wanting out, according to one published report. As ESPN noted when news first broke of Babcock’s hiring, the Leafs have the dubious distinction of having three of the worst five players in plus-minus in the league sitting on the team’s bench. Maybe Babcock can change that. Or maybe he’ll turn out to be just another expensive PR move.

No, Babcock’s hiring was more of a win for MLSE and their Grand Canyon-sized cheque book. Their offer reportedly came at the 11th-hour. It’s big money that few other teams in the NHL could afford to pay. For the time being, while many Leafs are far away from the rink, Babcock could have a statue erected outside the Air Canada Centre in his honour given the response with which his impending arrival has been greeted.

Not far from the Air Canada Centre, just an hour or so before the news broke, another deal that will have a much more lasting effect on the Toronto sports landscape, was officially being consummated. That being the sale of the Toronto Argonauts to Bell and MLSE chair Larry Tanenbaum that will relocate the team to BMO Field as early as the 2016 season. Wasn’t long ago that MLSE was in the bidding to buy the football team. The Bell deal was being celebrated at a press conference, until news of the Babcock signing broke on Twitter and MLSE boss Tim Leiweke, a big proponent of MLSE-Argo deal before it was overruled by his board, was asked about Babcock. “Who?” he joked.

It took well over 20 minutes for a question about anything other than the Toronto Maple Leafs to be asked. It wasn’t the Argos’s day. It was a day that reminded Toronto who the top dog in town is and who it always will be. Argos’ Ricky Foley summed up the sentiment in this tweet. No one can steal a headline like the Toronto Maple Leafs.  

After their 2014-15 season, a campaign so dreadful that some fans actually stopped attending games and took to throwing their jerseys on the ice in disgust at the team’s play, there was hope that the city’s other teams might get their due. Perhaps sports fans would look elsewhere and invest their emotions in a team that doesn’t perpetually disappoint while always promising greener pastures. Perhaps the city would be looked at as something more than just a one-sports town. By spreading the love, the whole city would benefit.

It wasn’t meant to be. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Mike Babcock have overshadowed all of that. It’s a big day, a fun day if you’re a sports junkie. There’s optimism on the horizon for Leafs fans. | @nowtoronto



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