6. Wrong Man at the Helm
On its own, just hiring Mike Babcock to join the Toronto Maple Leafs is somewhat of a head scratcher when considering how much President Brendan Shanahan paid the coach to leave the Detroit Red Wings behind.
For those that don’t remember, it was a large feat for the Leafs to outbid other NHL suitors for Babcock’s services.
The city rejoiced when Shanahan opened the MLSE coffers and gave Babcock a six-year contract with an annual salary worth $6.25 million. At the time, it more than doubled Todd McLellan’s record of $3 million per season as the highest-paid coach in the NHL.
It appeared as though the Toronto Maple Leafs had found the man that would bring them to the top of the NHL mountain.
Afterall, he already had the pedigree and wore a Stanley Cup ring to prove it. Babcock had taken multiple Red Wings teams and an Anaheim Ducks squad to the Stanley Cup finals, and he surpassed Jack Adam in Detroit for most wins as a coach.
In Toronto, things didn’t go as smoothly. There we constant stories about disagreements between the players and their coach. He famously sat Jason Spezza, keeping him from his Maple Leafs debut on home ice despite the player having purchased a number of tickets for family and friends.
There were also calls for Babcock to change and adapt his coaching style. His rigid systems didn’t allow for creativity. He was also unable or unwilling to make in-game adjustments.
The biggest problem with Babcock was the accusation of abuse of his players. After he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, stories begun to be reported about him mistreating his players.
In Toronto, it came out that the coach asked Mitch Marner, during his rookie season, to rank all of his teammates in order of their work ethic. Babcock then shared that list with the team. The explanation Babcock gave for having done this was to help Marner “focus on work ethic”.
Now, far removed from Toronto, controversy has followed the bench boss. Despite knowing his past, the Columbus Blue Jackets hired Babcock to be their head coach on July 1, 2023.