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Babcock intends to change culture of Maple Leafs

by Mike Brophy /

TORONTO -- Mike Babcock, introduced as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, warned Maple Leafs fans to be ready for some pain.

Babcock was hired Wednesday after 10 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Terms of his contract were not released but Sportsnet and TSN reported it to be an eight-year contract worth about $50 million.

"I look forward to the process, the battle, the pain, the fun, the journey," Babcock said. "It's going to be a long one but it's going to be a lot of fun. If you think there is no pain coming, there is pain coming."

Maple Leafs fans know a little bit about pain. Toronto has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past 10 seasons, hasn't won a playoff series since 2004 and has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.

Babcock, meanwhile, comes from a winning environment in Detroit, where he helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008 and return to the Cup Final in 2009. In 12 seasons as a coach with the Anaheim Ducks and Red Wings, he is 527-285-119 with 19 ties and has reached the Cup Final three times. He's also coached Canada to gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Babcock is regarded as one of the League's best coaches. But he is a coach, not a miracle worker. The Maple Leafs had 68 points this season, fourth-fewest in the League. Building them into a consistent Stanley Cup contender will take time. But that's OK by Babcock, who said he's not in it for the quick fix.

"This is going to be a long process; it's going to take time," Babcock said. "This is going to be a massive, massive challenge. I'm going to get to know the guys on this team at training camp and we're going to grow together. We're going to have good people on this team. We are going to have men on this team; we're going to have people that are accountable."

Babcock said he had opportunities to coach other teams that were closer to being Stanley Cup contenders, but said the opportunity in Toronto was most appealing to him, and that it was the best job for him and his family.

"This was a hard decision, and in the end we went through the process and talked to a lot of teams," Babcock said. "I have had a lot of opportunities to coach Canada's teams and enjoyed that immensely. Whether you believe it or not, I believe this is Canada's team and we need to put Canada's team back on the map."

Babcock said intends to change the culture of the Maple Leafs. A number of the team's expected top performers had down seasons in 2014-15. Right wing Phil Kessel scored 25 goals in 82 games, 12 fewer than last season, and left wing James van Riemsdyk scored 27 goals and looked tired down the stretch. The top line of Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak were a combined minus-101. Captain and defenseman Dion Phaneuf scored three goals and struggled defensively.

Babcock said he was blessed to have wonderful leadership in Detroit with Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall. The Maple Leafs may have to add to their leadership group.

"We have good people here," Babcock said. "We are going to acquire good people and we are going to make them better. I am a school teacher and I believe your job is to make people around you better."

Babcock did say that he believes Phaneuf is the right person for the job as captain, though he said the two will have to build a working relationship.

"I am going to get to know Dion and he's going to get to know me," Babcock said. "I like to think I am a straightforward communicator … I am a fan of Dion. I think he is a good kid and he tries hard."

Unlike previous Maple Leafs coaches, Babcock did not make any promises. There were no hints of a rapid rise up the standings beginning next season. What he did promise, however, was to begin a process that hopefully will one day lead to the Maple Leafs becoming a winning organization.

"I never came here to make the playoffs," Babcock said. "I came here to be involved in a [Stanley] Cup process and that goes from scouting, from drafting, from development, from analytics, from putting an off-ice team and on-ice team together. I love to win. I have a burning desire to win. But I also want to win in the end. I don't just want to get in the playoffs; I want to win. I want to be here with these guys and build a team off the ice and on the ice that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of."

Babcock said Toronto is a difficult place for players to play but he expects that to change. He added on game days he will be short-sighted and focused on the task at hand, but otherwise he has the big picture in mind.

"We have to make it safe for the players and the way your do that is by building a good enough team that they feel safe and that they are in it together," Babcock said. "We're going to do that here. It's going to take time but we're excited to do it."

Babcock said his contract does not say he will be allowed to make player personnel decisions. However, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Babcock will be consulted on potential moves.

Also Babcock was asked how he possibly could live up to a contract that reportedly will pay him an average of $6.25 million per season.

"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 are committed to the process. That, to me, is what it is all about."

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