By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 12) — In the National Football League, it’s called “Black Monday” — 24 hours after the final regular–season games in early–January when lousy teams jettison managers and coaching staffs.
“Black Sunday” has occurred here in Toronto with the Maple Leafs, who fired general manager David Nonis and interim head coach Peter Horachek before aisles at the Air Canada Centre could be ridden of hot dog wrappers from the season finale last night. The first move was mildly surprising; the second, a foregone conclusion. It’s the third move, however, that will shape the immediate future of the hockey club.
Brendan Shanahan may already have a succession plan. Clearly, he didn’t wake up this morning and decide to rinse Nonis. In fact, the decision to clean house was probably made long before Nonis pulled the magic trick of unloading David Clarkson’s albatross on Columbus, Feb. 26 — a shocking development that many in the media concluded would salvage employment for the Toronto GM. I haven’t a clue what Shanahan is thinking, nor does anyone outside his immediate circle with the Blue and White. If I’m the Leafs president, however, my eyes are focused on Mike Babcock like a pair of laser beams. Perhaps they have been all along. But, with a managerial opening, the Leafs now have a grand opportunity to entice Babcock with a unique and practical dual position.
WITH HOCKEY’S TWO MOST IMPORTANT POSITIONS NOW OPEN — AND WITH UNLIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES — THE MAPLE LEAFS HAVE ALL THE REQUIREMENT TO ENTICE MIKE BABCOCK. WHAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN IS IF BABCOCK WANTS TO LEAVE DETROIT.
As soon as Detroit is either eliminated from the playoffs or wins the Stanley Cup, I open the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment vault and ask Babcock to become director of hockey operations, general manager and head coach. In conjunction with Shanahan, I provide Babcock control of all hockey–related matters… and a six–year, iron–clad contract worth $30 million. That way, Babcock, the GM, won’t have to make any short–term decisions to save Babcock, the coach. Nor will he be concerned about hiring another person to replace Horachek.
Detractors will say that hockey is too “busy” these days to provide one man the dual portfolio. But, the Leafs are in a unique position whereby Shanahan has filled virtually all of the necessary support functions. Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter know the junior hockey scene backward and forward. Dubas heads up a department of hockey analytics. Brandon Pridham is the so–called “capologist” — maneuvering the variables of a payroll ceiling that may decrease marginally before next season. Dave Morrison remains as director of amateur scouting; Reid Mitchell and Steve Staios (slotted into an assistant coaching role after Randy Carlyle was fired) are quality hockey minds that coordinate scouting and player advisement. Director of pro scouting Steve Kasper and director of player development Jim Hughes were also fired today. As GM, Babcock would merely become the “boss” of those still in place. Heavy lifting would be done by these individuals (and others he and Shanahan bring in), with Babcock obtaining the rights of approval and veto in hockey decisions.
It would enable him to largely concentrate on his coaching duties.
This blog obviously pre–supposes that Babcock will leave Detroit after the current season. He has not uttered a syllable to suggest that, or otherwise. We can therefore only assume that the future Hall of Fame coach might be open to a fresh challenge — one that would allow him substantial development of a once–storied team that is now looking upward from near–bottom. Five–million dollars per season — over six years — would give Babcock continued employment security and placate his desire to become the highest–paid coach in the National Hockey League. Cast–iron moldings of his frame would be on stand–by for the moment the Leafs end their interminable championship drought.
The two key positions are open.
Money is not an issue (or, it shouldn’t be).
Now, let’s see if Brendan Shanahan has the power of persuasion.
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