TORONTO — Brendan Shanahan and the Toronto Maple Leafs swung for the fences and landed the biggest free agent of the NHL off-season.
It’s not a franchise cornerstone defenceman or a No. 1 centre but highly sought after coach Mike Babcock, who had his pick of jobs and chose the Leafs on an eight year contract worth $50 million.
“I’m proud of Shanny, I’m proud that he dreamt big,” Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke said. “He got the big whale.”
It took a bidding war, and the Leafs won it. Babcock had no shortage of suitors, from Detroit, where he coached for the past 10 years, to Buffalo and San Jose. The man considered the top hockey coach in the world now has a deal that makes him the highest-paid coach in the league.
The coach from Saskatoon will reportedly receive a large signing bonus and make between US$5 million and $6 million per season, well above the $3.5 million Joel Quenneville of Chicago Blackhawks pulls in annually. Babcock joins a Leafs team that has missed the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons.
Toronto will send a third-round pick to the Red Wings as compensation for Babcock.
Landing Babcock is a major coup for Shanahan, who in the past 13 months since taking over as president has fired general manager Dave Nonis, coach Randy Carlyle, interim Peter Horachek and several assistants and scouts.
“I know there were people that ultimately questioned whether or not Brendan would come in here and ultimately be a great president,” Leiweke said during a news conference announcing the sale of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field. “You have to give him a lot of credit. This is a vision he had early on.”
Babcock won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008, went to the final in 2003 with Anaheim and in 2009 with the Red Wings and captured two Olympic gold medals for Canada.
With his contract up, the 52-year-old had his pick of staying in Detroit or choosing a new challenge.