Mike Babcock is, among many things, the richest coach in the NHL, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and a Stanley Cup champion. On Monday he also confirmed himself as the worst hype man in pro sports.
Just listen to the way Babcock framed the narrative around Tuesday afternoon’s game between his Maple Leafs and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes at the Air Canada Centre.
“It’s going to be tight. There’s going to be no room,” Babcock said of the impending on-ice traffic jam, before adding the carnival-barking capper. “It’s going to be one of those games where it looks like there’s hardly any plays taking place whatsoever.”
He said those words — “hardly any plays taking place whatsoever” — with scary gusto. Clearly this is Babcock’s idealized NHL, the Nothing Happens League. He and his control-freak coaching brethren like it best that way. Nothing horrified Babcock more than the Leafs scoring 19 goals in their opening three games this season. Now that they’ve scored a combined 10 goals in seven games in December . . . hey, this is more like it.
It’s easy to make fun of Babcock for this, of course. And looking at it from 30,000 feet, it’s easy to criticize the league’s leadership for allowing its coaches to wilfully and profitably strangle the fun out of a great sport. But if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, and all you’re in it for is to see your beloved club win a Stanley Cup some time between now and the hereafter, Babcock’s take on hockey aesthetics is entirely appropriate. It doesn’t matter how it looks as long as it ends in a “W.”
Listening to the sudden flood of Babcock-focused criticism around town, it’s easy to forget the whole reason Babcock was brought here. He was brought here, not to set off offensive fireworks, but to remake a broken dressing-room culture that had proven itself unfit to represent the Maple Leaf.
You’ll remember the pre-Babcock Leafs, the team whose best player was permitted to treat defence as optional because he was, in the words of then-coach Randy Carlyle, an “artist.”
“I think there is a double standard in sports that talented people have to be given a bit more of a rope,” Carlyle said in the fall of 2014.