Leafs president Brendan Shanahan met with reporters following today's press conference unveiling Mike Babcock as new head coach of the hockey club. Here's what he had to say...
Was there something that happened near the end that swayed him to Toronto?
No, he just came around. I tried to make that very clear and I just said it again. The minute we had an opportunity to talk to him, I was on the phone with Kenny Holland, signing the papers, getting the proper procedure done that we would be able to talk to him. Five to 10 minutes later I was on the phone with Mike. We flew him into Toronto, we outlined our vision, we outlined everything I had said at the end of year press conference. Mark Hunter was there, I can tell you Mark Hunter was a big part of this, he deserves a lot of the credit for this because, at the end of the day, Mike wasn't even necessarily having to be convinced what the vision was here. He had the same idea. It was all about how we build. We gave him our financial package the next day and then he went to Prague. I met with him in Prague, I stuck the same message over and over again. For some reason when we came back - we weren't leaking things out, we were quiet - somehow it got out that we were out of it. I didn't feel we were ever out of it. I wasn't sure we had him, we were making sure we had other options as well, but there was no last minute, "here's a new idea" or "here's a new role" or "here's a different financial package." It was really just allowing Mike to - and I kept messaging the same thing I did the first day - but it was really just allowing Mike to come around to that on his own.
You mention vision, what does that mean in terms of why he chose the Leafs?
When people were talking about him during this process that, why would he take on a challenge this big? My view was that was not our greatest weakness. It was potentially our greatest strength, knowing the man, that our mountain was potentially the biggest. Maybe we were starting behind the others, that he was coming in on the ground floor. I never saw that as a like I said, the first conversation we had, what was coming out of my mouth, I said to my wife, "those were hard things to say." I just told him the truth about where we were and the size of the mountain here. Like I said, what I knew of the man having worked with him and known him for some time now, my hope was that the size of the mountain compared to some of the other opportunities that were out there was what would attract him the most. There are certain people who are just challenge seekers. Mike alluded to it as well. Lots of people get afraid and then there are people who are not afraid of being afraid. That was my hope was that he was the right fit for that reason and we were fortunate as the Maple Leafs that he came around there.
When did he say yes?
Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. I don't know the time.
What is it about Mike that made you so insistent from the beginning?
I think you guys can see it when he talks. He has a plan, he has a backbone and, as I mentioned at the end of season press conference, he has a stomach. He takes on big challenges. He's not a quitter. He had an opportunity to win that one gold medal in 2010 and maybe not go back in 2014 and I wouldn't be surprised if he goes back in 2018. This is a guy that doesn't shy away from challenges. We needed someone like that. There are other great coaches in the NHL and, no disrespect to them, but I just thought for Toronto, Mike was an excellent fit. This is a big city with a lot of passion to the team. Like I said, there are some people that I think are better suited for that. This isn't the end of the game here, this is the beginning. When I approached Mike it was about being on the ground floor with us and the people we've started to assemble as a management team. If there's one thing I felt coming in here and in the course of my first year, it was getting our management team in shape with the right people. Guys like Mark Hunter who didn't need to come here and do this but wanted to take it on. Guys like Kyle Dubas who didn't need to come here but wanted to take this on. Mike has that same personality.
Are you going to hire a GM? Could it be you? Could it be Mike Babcock?
No, Mike is our coach. Whether Mike was our coach or we had a different coach, I would want that guy at our scouting meetings, I would want that guy at our trade deadline meetings. I'm the kind of person that I don't want to work in silos here. I'm not afraid of strong people and I'm not afraid of surrounding myself with people way smarter and way better at this than me. The answer (re: hiring a GM) is, I would like to. It is something I've already worked on. There are some men I've spoken to. People talk about the order. The coaching decision seemed to me to be more pressing. I've talked to some general managers just to get advice and counsel. Their view was get the coach. Don't wait a month to get the GM because that's how it's done and then he goes to pick his guy and everybody else is hired. Get the best coach you can get, get the best person you can get when they're available. I would like to get a general manager. I'm not ruling out any of the things you have said, that it could be one of us or it could be a group of us doing it together. On this day, like I said at the end of the year, I would like to find a guy that fit, that embraced this challenge, that likes what we're building here and wants to be a builder.
Does Mike have autonomy to assemble a coaching staff?
We didn't talk about autonomy, he's not like that. We want a coach to be surrounded with people he's going to get the best results from. He didn't come in here with a bunch of demands and it's not in his contract looking for words like autonomy. I think what he did was he got comfortable with the group, that we are open-minded people, that we're looking to be the best we can possibly be so we can start marching toward building that foundation is what we have to do.
Are you worried about straying from the plan?
I can tell you that was one of Mike's question for us and it was the opposite. It was, if we're four points out are you guys - meaning me, Mark, Kyle, our ownership group - still willing to stick to the plan? And that was an important answer for us, that we're not - we're interested in building a team that has the potential to challenge for the Stanley Cup, not simply get in and get out at the cost of the future. That doesn't mean we're going all youth. We're going to be finding some guys here and there that probably won't necessarily be here when we feel we'll be reaching where we are. We're going to be looking for the right people. It'll never be, in our mind, at the expense of the future. It's a good question and he asked it before he signed on.
Did you feel it was important to get someone of Babcock's bulletproof stature for the next few years or did you consider trying to find the next Babcock, a more developmental type?
I did and we were talking to some guys that we were very serious about. I can tell you - I'll say his name - Guy Boucher. I'm a huge fan of Guy Boucher. We had been talking to him as well and, actually, at Mike's insistence. In Prague he said, "I hope you're talking to other coaches too," and I said, "We are." I really liked him and we were talking to other people... I think Mike is a teacher, I think people really underrate his ability to teach. He has coached the Olympic team and he has coached stars and has the ability to coach stars, but I've seen him also coach third and fourth liners and make them better. I've seen him coach guys that were playing in the East Coast League and now they're very good NHL players. He has the ability to reach all people, he's a teacher. As far as a shield, to me, that job has been done. We spelled it out at the end of the season. I think, in my mind, the city wants this. Do we need a shield to do what we're about to do? I think the city and the ownership and the fans, when I walked out at the end of the season - and I said this to Mike - it was almost embarrassing the encouragement and the optimism I felt from the fans for finally just telling the truth. They're hard truths, they're very hard truths. Mike wasn't providing us that. I felt we had our green light from our city and our board to go and build this the right way without looking for those shortcuts or getting tempted into those shortcuts.
Is Guy Boucher an option to be an assistant or associate coach?
I think Guy Boucher has other options in the head coaching department so I can't discuss that.