Babcock: Leafs job about 'maximizing your potential'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Mike Babcock laughs during Thursday's press conference in Toronto.

Detroit — Mike Babcock preached patience but with big rewards in the end as he was introduced Thursday as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Babcock left the Red Wings after 10 seasons Wednesday, signing an eight-year contract worth $50 million with the Maple Leafs.

He was formally introduced Thursday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan in what some observers called an "electric" atmosphere.

Interestingly, there was just as much talk by Babcock about an expected rough period record-wise starting out, as there was Stanley Cups.

"I'm thrilled to be here," said Babcock. "Felt like I was 25 years old, scared to death, but excited about the opportunity.

"I always think, 'What's the message for your kids?' We've been going through our whole life trying to be the best that we can be. Maybe it's time for another opportunity."

"It's exhilarating. It's maximizing your potential. They've made a long-term commitment and I've made a long-term commitment to the Maple Leafs and our plan is grow the team.

"We have good people here, we'll acquire good people, and we'll make them better."

A sign welcoming Mike Babcock as the new head coach of the Maple Leafs  is displayed outside of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday.

Babcock thanked Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, general manager Ken Holland and the players "for 10 unbelievable years. It was a very special time."

Babcock said leaving Detroit was a "hard decision." He said he met one final time with Holland on Wednesday morning.

"It was very emotional," Babcock said. "I had to get the Kleenex box out when I sat in his office."

He added: "(Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Niklas) Kronwall dragged me around for 10 years, so I'm forever indebted to those guys. I'm really proud that over 10 years in Detroit we helped players get better. We have five coaches, if not right now then shortly (the Red Wings are expected to promote Jeff Blashill from Grand Rapids) that are (or have been) coaches in the NHL."

The Maple Leafs (30-44-8, 68 points) finished 31 points out of the playoffs and their prospects appear slim of making the postseason in 2016.

But Babcock is comfortable with the process of building the Maple Leafs beyond just a playoff contender.

"This is a great city, unbelievable fans, and it's the Maple Leafs, I'm proud to be here," said Babcock. "It's going to be a long one journey, but it'll be a lot of fun."

Shanahan met with Babcock after the Red Wings gave Babcock permission to meet with teams earlier this month.

The two met again in Prague during the world championships, where Shanahan's sales pitch struck home with Babcock.

"Mike's questions for me were, 'Do we have the ability as a city and organization to go through the hard times?'" Shanahan said. "There was no last-minute change or swooping in with a new idea or financial pitch."

As for the huge contract, Babcock said he drives a Ford F-150 and will continue to do so.

"They've (Leafs ownership) made a long-term commitment to me and they're committed to the process," Babcock said. "We understand what the process is and what you'll have to do to make it happen."