Mike Babcock is coming to Toronto.
The long-time Detroit Red Wings head coach chose big money – $50-million over eight years – to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday after he was hotly pursued by a half dozen NHL teams the past few weeks.
Babcock turned down a similar offer from the Buffalo Sabres, who also outbid the Red Wings to a large extent.
Babcock will be given a say in personnel decisions with the Leafs as well as an out clause after five years in his contract, which is heavily front-loaded, according to multiple reports.
The Leafs, who finished fourth last in the NHL this season, were not considered the frontrunners for Babcock entering this week despite meeting with him several times.
Babcock will be officially introduced by president Brendan Shanahan as the franchise's 30th coach at a press conference on Thursday morning at the Air Canada Centre.
Despite Detroit's struggles the past four seasons – they have been eliminated in the first round three times – Babcock is widely regarded as the NHL's top coach.
He brings an impressive resume to Toronto. Babcock is 17th in career wins and tied for ninth in playoff wins in league history and won a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008. He also won two gold medals at the last two Olympics with Team Canada.
Why Babcock chose the Leafs comes down to more than money, although he did want to set a new bar for top NHL coaches' salaries, which have been stagnant around $2-million a season for years. Babcock hinted several times in the past few weeks that he wanted a new challenge after a decade in Detroit, including asking rhetorically in an interview with TSN's Darren Dreger earlier this week "is change important to invigorate you?"
The answer ultimately ended up being yes.
Winning right away was obviously not his top priority. The Leafs are not close to contending and are unlikely to make the postseason in at least the next two seasons, meaning he will be part of a rebuilding organization for some time to come.
What he gets instead – in addition to an enormous raise that makes him the highest paid coach in the NHL by a large margin – is the monumental challenge of helping build a franchise from the ground up in the craziest hockey market in the world.
Babcock does not lack confidence and that's an important part of this deal. He believes he can help any team make a dramatic improvement, and his abilities will certainly be tested given Toronto's roster and mindset, which is focused on drafting and development.
Under new league rules regarding hiring other team's staff, the Leafs will have to give Detroit a third-round pick within the next few seasons as compensation for Babcock.