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Mike Babcock Joins Toronto Maple Leafs: What Took So Long?

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Mike Babcock finally accepted the coaching job that should have been a no-brainer.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Babcock is the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

MIKE BABCOCK is the head coach of the TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS. That actually happened to the shock of virtually all of the hockey world. Many, including the Buffalo Sabres, thought he was leaving the Red Wings for Buffalo. Why is this surprising?

The Sabres are apparently "livid" at how this process played out.

The Buffalo Sabres have the audacity to be livid that the Maple Leafs, a historic franchise drowning in equal parts money and mediocrity, sitting in the center of the hockey universe, were the ultimate destination for the biggest available name on the coaching market. He should have ended up in Toronto. The Sabres' overconfidence isn't Babcock's fault.

Babcock almost certainly used the Sabres to extract the ridiculous contract he wanted as a "free agent" head coach. They obliged him. The Sabres wined and dined Babcock.

There's no denying Babcock was Buffalo's first choice. The Sabres put together a comprehensive package for the longtime Detroit coach, giving him a tour of their arena and HarborCenter on May 10. The Sabres also tried to sell Babcock on a bright future. After finishing last in back-to-back seasons, Buffalo is expected to be on the upswing with promising prospects.

The Sabres also suspiciously pushed a brief case with a million dollars in non-sequential 20 dollar bills across the negotiation table to Babcock with a wink and said "we've got 49 more of those for you if you sign on the dotted line".

And he STILL left Buffalo without a contract. If you blow someone away with hospitality, pitch the bright future you have, AND offer to pay him twice the salary of the highest paid coach in the NHL and the guy doesn't prick his own finger and sign the contract in blood you have to be nervous on some level.

According to the internet, the Sabres didn't expect this. They let themselves be the stalking horse bid, watched their prey leave town, and then got surprised when he signed with a much more respected franchise. They pursued the top coaching candidate available, and didn't expect that he might shop a crazy offer. How naive. This is the same franchise that said this after losing the chance to draft Connor McDavid and getting "stuck" with Jack Eichel:

Murray

Smooth guys.

The Sabres might be upset, but the city should be used to disappointment at this point. Maple Leaf fans are undoubtedly happy. Pension Plan Puppets might be broken, and this might be tongue in cheek, but tongue in cheek doesn't automatically mean wrong.

Why wouldn't the Leafs, the greatest and handsomest team in the whole world, sign Mike Babcock? Where else would he sign? Detroit is a crumbling warzone propped up solely by Little Caesar's Pizza and Buffalo is home to 1.2 million people who wished they could move somewhere else.

We can't forget the money at play here, and PPP didn't:

The Leafs have signed Babcock to an eight year $50M deal, which would be important if MLSE didn't have a big roll of $100 bills taped together to use as toilet paper on their private jet. There's no salary cap and I don't have season tickets or use products from Bell and/or Rogers so best of luck to any of you who do.

The $50 million 8-year contract handed out by the Maple Leafs dwarfs all coaching salaries in the NHL. The contract he ultimately accepted dwarfs even the record salary the Red Wings offered in their final offer:

His average salary of $6.25 million is more than double what Joel Quenneville earns for the Chicago Blackhawks as the previous highest paid coach. He makes more than the MLB high salaries of Mike Scoscia and Joe Maddon (5 million). He would be the third highest paid NBA coach. In NCAA Football only Nick Saban earns moreSeven NFL coaches make moreCoach K at Duke leads American coaches in salary at almost ten million. If Babcock isn't among the top ten highest paid coaches in North American sports he's certainly in the top 11-15.

This is a bold move for the Maple Leafs whether they pay $50 million or $100 million. The money is immaterial. They're like the Joker burning his cut of the money in The Dark Knight. This isn't about an amount of money. It's about flexing  financial muscle period. As PPP mentioned, MLSE prints money. Why haven't the Maple Leafs been making it rain since the day the salary cap was implemented?

The goal of the salary cap is league parity and to even the playing field. The Leafs and other teams with money can't money whip every free agent and build a roster. Coaches aren't covered by the salary cap. When every little edge counts, why wouldn't a team flush with cash hand out the money they can't otherwise spend to ice the best coaching staff on earth?

If Ken Hitchcock is fired and willing to do it, why shouldn't the Leafs make him the second highest paid coach in the league to be Babcock's assistant? If they truly do like Guy Boucher pay him whatever he wants and bring him in. Who cares? If they have this avenue available to them and don't pursue it the only people they are hurting are themselves and their fans.

As much of a win as this is for the Leafs and their fans, every coach in the league took notice of that fat paycheck too. The market is going to be different from now on. Coaches now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that free agency works for them too if they can keep demand high.

Some are worried that coaching salaries will skyrocket. They're going to go up, but most coaches will not have the favorable circumstances Babcock enjoyed.

1. He wasn't fired.

Most coaches with skins on the wall were fired from their previous jobs. Whether justified or not, for some reason they were no longer wanted by their previous employer. The fact that Babcock could return to the Wings, a place he enjoyed working for a decade, played a huge role in the Sabres and Leafs money whipping him.

2. He wasn't being promoted from an assistant role or lower league.

Positive experience is key to getting any job. He has been an NHL head coach for a long time. He has coached at international competitions. He has playoff experience. Nothing that happens in Toronto is going to be foreign to him.

There are very few coaches who can check both of those boxes in the immediate future. Quenneville definitely could. The list behind him is incredibly short if anyone else is on it at all. Babcock has set the bar, but he set it so high that no one is likely to cross it for a long time. Others will get raises, but the NHL coaching ranks aren't going to suddenly resemble NFL coach salaries.

The way the situation transpired was surprising only because we haven't seen a scenario like this take shape. The most respected coach in the league ended up with one of the most storied popular franchises in the league by signing a record breaking contract. Everything about that sentence makes perfect sense. This may not have been the predicted path -- the details here were surprising -- but this outcome shouldn't be.

Rich teams with no restraint usually get whoever they want, and there is no coach in the league that would turn down 50 million dollars to go to Toronto or Buffalo unless they have a choice between the two. Given the choice between the two, well, there isn't a choice.

If the city of Buffalo offered to double my personal salary right now I would move, but if Fort Worth is going to match it, I know where I'm going too. Babcock was never going to Buffalo if a job he preferred was available for the same price. Logic dictated that, and logic held firm.