Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Is Mike Babcock destined for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Dave Pratt and 'Bro' Jake on TSN 1040 Vancouver are batting around the idea that if Mike Babcock is going to take the Toronto job, it will be as a Head Coach-GM. Now we tend to think this dual-duty generally doesn’t work in the NHL nowadays, since coaches are pre-occupied with the day-to-day, the short-term, and a GM needs to make decisions that take the long-term into account. Also, common wisdom is that the job is too complex for only one man to do both effectively.

I do think this could work for the Leafs though, in this specific eventuality. Mike Babcock is obviously very qualified, experienced, and could have the ability to do both. He’d have the self-confidence and control, and the security not normally afforded to a coach that comes with a mondo contract, that he could sacrifice the short-term occasionally to make these calls, on whether a player can be left in the minors some more, or whether a vet needs to be let go or traded instead of re-signed to a huge deal, for example.

Additionally, the common practice is now to have a team, a brain trust to perform the GM duties, it’s no longer a one-man job, a wizardly Sam Pollock with maybe a draft-guru Ron ‘Prof’ Caron to lean on. We see how Marc Bergevin has a half-dozen guys in his circle who collaborate on these tasks, and the same exists in Vancouver, with Trevor Linden doing a lot of the lifting in terms of media presence and fan relations, and Jim Benning able to focus more on the scouting and guts of the job, with a slew of assistants.

One of the pitfalls of having a GM-Head Coach is that players have to negotiate their contracts with the same guy who doles out icetime.  That's a great potential for ruffled feathers, so it's something that needs to be handled expertly.

Gary Valk told the story of how he once met with former Canucks Head Coach-GM Pat Quinn after the season ended, and tried to get a new deal done with him by discussing what a good year he’d had as an effective and tough 4th-liner. Quinn shot back: “The only reason you were on the fourth line is because we weren’t allowed to have a fifth line.” Gary Valk walked out and decided he’d hire an agent to do his negotiating.

But even when these jobs are clearly separate, there’s even then often a need to tiptoe around. Lots of GM’s want to be the face of the franchise, and be able to attract players, motivate them, they don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’, so they’ll delegate the haggling to a capologist who’ll grind every penny. “Gee, I really want to keep you, but Mr. Smith is in charge of contracts, he handles the numbers, my hands are kind of tied, …”

Certainly it wouldn’t work with every team or every individual, but with a proven, capable Mike Babcock, surrounded with a team of quality hockey men who are committed to supporting him, who don’t have different agendas, and with a talented, credible leader like Brendan Shanahan to insulate him from the MLSE Board soap operas, it could work, I’d bet.

So yeah, Mike Babcock could be the CEO, kind of like a Bill Parcells or a Bill Belichik, who’s the coach, and makes the big decisions, with a lot of assistants in both areas to take care of the details, advise him, support him.

And I’d be happy if this occurred. While it’s amusing to see the Leafs implode year after year, and I never wanted the Tie Domi-Darcy Tucker-Wade Belak group to have success, or Brian Burke’s truculent goon squad, if they had a skilled fast team that was a pleasure to watch, like the Wings and the Lightning, I’d certainly love that. If they beat us at hockey, instead of coltonorring us, I can accept that, respect that. I actually would prefer if the Leafs were a worthy rival, instead of the joke media-whore team they’ve become.

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