DETROIT – Mike Babcock is leaving Detroit for Toronto.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced Babcock will be the 30th head coach in their team's storied history. Reports say Toronto has struck an 8-year, $50 million deal with the highly-coveted hockey coach. That will make him the highest paid coach in NHL history.
"I've got mixed emotions today," said Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland. "He's one of the greatest coaches in the league, if not the greatest coach."
Holland said he offered Babcock a 4-year deal and said the best he could do was a 5-year deal.
"Certainly part of the decision-making process for Mike was the term length," said Holland.
Babcock officially becomes a free agent when his contract expires on June 30. Holland has said repeatedly he wanted Babcock to be in Detroit if it's where the coach wants to be. Apparently Babcock couldn't pass on the Toronto offer.
Earlier this month, Holland granted Babcock permission to talk to other teams. He reportedly spoke with several teams including the Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers. The Red Wings will get a third-round draft pick from the Leafs for allowing them to talk with Babcock.
With Babcock now officially leaving for Toronto, Jeff Blashill, who is head coach of Detroit's AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins, appears to be the top candidate for the open head coach job in Detroit.
"Now I got some decisions to make and our goal is to beat Mike," said Holland. "(Blashill) is certainly a leading candidate. My list is going to be short. It's going to be two or three names."
Babcock had been behind the Red Wings' bench the past 10 seasons. The team won the Stanley Cup under his leadership in 2008 and returned to the finals in 2009. He also won two consecutive gold medals with the Canadian Olympic team in 2010 and 2014.
"I loved working with Mike. I'm happy for him," said Holland. "I just know it was a difficult decision."
Babcock joins desperate Leafs franchise
He will now go to a Toronto organization that hasn't seen success since the 1960s. They've made the playoffs just once in the past 10 seasons.
The Leafs started this past season strong before falling into a horrific slump which never ended. They lost a franchise record 11 consecutive games in February. They finished the season with just 30 wins and 68 points for 7th in the Atlantic Division.
Head coach Randy Carlyle was fired in January. Interim head coach Peter Horachek was fired at the end of the season along with General Manager Dave Nonis.
Losing and firings have become the norm in Toronto. The Leafs haven't been to the Stanley Cup final since 1967 when they beat the Montreal Canadiens in 6 games. That was the last Stanley Cup final of the Original Six era.
Former Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan is tasked with rebuilding this once-great NHL team. He became president and alternate governor of the franchise in 2014. His first big move is hiring Babcock.
Toronto's general manager position remains vacant.