DETROIT >> Mike Babcock has never minced words when it comes to his need to win.
Now Babcock’s biggest desire will turn into what could be a very long process after he was officially named the next head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday afternoon.
“I never came here to make the playoffs,” Babcock said during his press conference. “I came here to be involved in a Cup process. That goes from scouting, to drafting, to development, to analytics, from putting an off-ice team together, putting an on-ice team together.
“I love to win,” Babcock continued. “I have a burning desire to win, but I also want to win in the end. I don’t want to just get in the playoffs. We want to build a team that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of.”
The Leafs, who have won 13 Stanley Cups, that last of which came in 1967, last made the playoffs in 2013, losing in the first round to the Boston Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.
The last trip to the postseason prior to that was 2004.
“When you win every day it becomes pretty safe for the players,” Babcock said. “Right now it’s a hard spot. It’s tough. We’re going to change that, but it’s going to take time. As a coach you’re in the day-to-day winning business. I’ve been in it a long time. On game day I’ll be short sighted for sure, but I’ve got a big picture in mind. But if you think there’s no pain coming … there’s pain coming.”
The Leafs, who have the fifth and 24th overall picks in this year’s draft, finished 27th in the overall league standings last season.
“Fear I think is a great thing,” Babcock said. “It’s about being alive. At 52 I’m not ready to die. I want to get on with it here. I made a long term commitment to the Leafs and our plan is to grow the team.”
Babcock also became the highest paid coach – $50 million over eight years – in the NHL in the process.
“The contract is simply a commitment from the Maple Leafs to success,” Babcock said. “They made a long-term commitment to me, so I understand totally they’re committed to the process.”
All signs on Tuesday pointed to Babcock heading to Buffalo. That changed when Toronto and the Wings rejoined the process.
“I talked to lots of teams,” Babcock said when asked if he used Buffalo to leverage his bargaining position with other teams. “When you’re talking to teams negotiating is in that process. The hardest thing for the media to do was to figure out where I was going because I had no idea where I was going. It was a hard decision. We changed our mind … not a change of mind we went back and forth so many times (about) the right thing was to do.”
Detroit’s final offer to Babcock, who made $2 million last season, was $4 million for each of the next five seasons. The offer the Wing made prior to that was a four-year deal worth $3.25 million a season.
“That lying word is an interesting word for me,” Babcock said when accused by a reporter of lying to the Sabres. “I’ve been in the public eye for a long, long time. I don’t think that goes anywhere near who I am or what I’m about. I’ve been real straightforward and honest in the process with all the teams I talked to and with my ownership. I just worked for 10 years in Detroit, as a head coach you don’t work in places for a long time unless you have good relationships and you treat people right. So that would be the end of that for me.”
The Wings will get a third-round pick during the next three seasons as compensation for Babcock, whose contract was set to expire on June 30, signing with Toronto.
“I embrace this opportunity of coaching the Maple Leafs,” Babcock said. “I came here with my eyes open and I understand totally what’s going on. I went through a process of I don’t know how many days to figure this out. In the end I made the right decision and I’m excited about it.”
Babcock’s the only coach to have guided a team to the playoffs every season of the salary-cap era.
However, the Wings have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs since losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final in the 2008-09 season, the year after Babcock won his only Cup in Detroit.