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New Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock's new gig has many parallels to that of former mentor Scotty Bowman.USA TODAY SPORTS

For all the years they overlapped in Detroit – Mike Babcock as head coach of the Red Wings, Scotty Bowman as the NHL team's senior adviser – the two talked about hockey a lot. Babcock was always hungry for information, no matter the stage of his career, and Bowman, the coach with the most wins in NHL history, never minded sharing.

But one point Bowman consistently made about the craft of coaching was that no matter what era or trend or style you happened to be talking about, coaches ultimately still had to rely on the players the organization's feeder system put at their disposal.

Or to put it another way, it won't matter if you are the second coming of Jack Adams, Toe Blake or Punch Imlach, a coach's influence can only go so far. Without the players to support his theories or teachings, no amount of technical expertise or motivational skills can overcome a lack of hockey-playing talent.

And that theory will be put to the test now that Babcock is the new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were lots of things attractive about the position, starting with the dollars, a reported $50-million over eight years, with a goodly portion of it to be paid out in the first two years. It blows the doors off the compensation levels any hockey coach anywhere has ever received.

Babcock has a reputation as an honest straight shooter. When he finally speaks about his decision, he will likely be the first to concede that he was Godfathered here – made a financial offer he couldn't refuse.

In Toronto, Babcock will have input into player personnel decisions and the chance to help build something from the ground up. All important. But the opportunity to win isn't going to be there in the near term, not if the Leafs stay true to the program they outlined in dumping most of their former front office. Short-term fixes don't work. A long, painful rebuild is the only way to go.

It's weirdly coincidental the parallels between Babcock's new gig and the path Bowman explored when he left the Montreal Canadiens after winning a fourth Stanley Cup championship in 1979. Like Babcock, Bowman was looking for a broader opportunity – and a higher-paying one. He found it with the Sabres, where he went for the start of the 1979-80 season, replacing Imlach. Like Babcock, Bowman wanted input into player personnel decisions, which wasn't happening in Montreal, so he took a dual position in Buffalo, and began as coach and general manager.

But it was an up-and-down seven-year tenure. He stayed behind the Sabres' bench his first year, then relinquished the job to Roger Neilson for a year, went back behind the bench again, then turned it over to Jim Roberts, then went back behind the bench again in March of 1982. Bowman stuck with coaching long enough that third time to become a finalist for the 1984 Jack Adams trophy, given to the coach of the year, but eventually gave it up again for Jim Schoenfeld, then Craig Ramsay, then Ted Sator.

This was the 21-team era, when 16 teams made the playoffs, so expectations were different. Unlike today, the minimum goal was not just getting into the postseason because practically everybody did. The goal was going on a deep playoff run, which the Sabres couldn't manage, because the Sabres could never quite put the team together to contend.

Eventually, Buffalo went in a different direction and Bowman was out of hockey for a time before he landed in Pittsburgh, where he began the second act of his coaching career – two years with the Penguins, then nine with Detroit before retiring for good. In Pittsburgh, he inherited a team from Bob Johnson that had Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and a young Jaromir Jagr and helped them defend the Stanley Cup. In Detroit, he inherited a 103-point team from Bryan Murray and led them to a championship in his fourth year behind the bench, with a star-studded collection of talent, including Steve Yzerman, plus the Russian Five.

Bowman, the coach, always fared much better than Bowman, the manager, who, during his time as the Sabres' GM, had consecutive drafts in which he had three No. 1 picks, 1982 and 1983. Some worked out. Some didn't. Dave Andreychuk, Tom Barrasso and Phil Housley all went on to have excellent careers, but Normand Lacombe, Paul Cyr and Adam Creighton all became journeymen.

Babcock would have had this conversation with Bowman at some point along the way – how to trade off their deep-seated desires to win against all the other intangibles that come to bear on these sorts of life-changing decisions, including the size of the pay cheque.

Coaching the Leafs will require an inordinate amount of patience, until the player talent matches the organization's Stanley Cup ambitions.

This then will be the ultimate test for Babcock who, 13 years and 950 games into his NHL coaching career, has never quite faced the challenge that Toronto will pose. There are not many coaches more competitive than Babcock. How he handles the challenge of those early dark days will be worth monitoring.