New Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said today he never agreed to a deal to coach the Buffalo Sabres and didn’t use the team as leverage before signing an eight-year contract worth a reported $50 million with Toronto.
Multiple media outlets have reported the Sabres thought they landed Babcock earlier this week and were livid when he went to Toronto on Wednesday.
“I talked to lots of teams, and when you’re talking to teams, negotiation is in that process,” Babcock said this morning during his introductory news conference at the Air Canada Centre. “The hardest thing for the media to do was to figure out where I was going, because I had no idea where I was going … because it was a hard decision. We … went back and forth so many times trying to figure out what the right thing to do was.”
When pressed if he had a deal with the Sabres, Babcock responded, “Nope. Did we work on financial stuff? Absolutely.”
In an interview with WGR this afternoon, Sabres general manager Tim Murray said he never thought he had secured Babcock’s services.
“We were in negotiations of a contract, knowing full well that end of the day there’s no deal done until he says, ‘I’m coming to you,’” Murray said.
Murray said the belief the Sabres were upset over losing the coach is “ludicrous.”
“It makes no sense to me,” he said. “I don’t know where it comes from.”
Babcock was asked if he lied to the Sabres.
“That lying word’s an interesting word to me,” he said. “You know what? I’ve been in the public eye for a long time. I don’t think that goes anywhere near who I am or what I’m about. I’ve been real straightforward and honest in the process with all the teams I’ve talked to and with my ownership. I’ll even say this. I worked for six years in Spokane, Wash. I just worked for 10 years in Detroit. As a head coach, you don’t work in places for a long time unless you have good relationships and you treat people right. So that’ll be the end of that for me.”
Babcock said he had no problems with Buffalo’s front office structure. Murray said Babcock never asked for any control.
“If you think (owner) Terry Pegula isn’t a star, you’re mistaken,” Babcock said. “Or that Mike Babcock and Tim Murray didn’t have a great relationship, that’s wrong, too. In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs, and this was the best fit for my family. When you put the two together, that’s what happened.”
Meanwhile, in a move many expected, the Sabres have received permission from the Pittsburgh Penguins to interview Dan Bylsma about their coaching vacancy, according to ESPN.com.
Bylsma coached the Penguins six seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 before getting fired in 2014. The 44-year-old is still under contract with the Penguins.
Murray wouldn’t confirm the report. He said he spoke to “one or two” candidates before, during and after courting Babcock.
What is Murray looking for in a coach? He hasn’t zeroed in on one type of candidate.
“I’m open-minded,” Murray said. “I’ve always been open-minded about coaches. How does a guy like Mike Babcock get his start unless you’re open-minded.”
Going after Babcock “was a great process,” said Murray, who has never searched for a coach as GM. A year ago, Murray kept Ted Nolan, who was already with the Sabres when he arrived, before firing him April 12.
In other coaching news, Murray said he hasn’t had any in-person interviews for the Rochester Americans’ opening. He could be so impressed with a candidate for the AHL club he decides he’s better fit for the Sabres.
Notes: Murray said he’s gotten a couple of calls on his No. 2 pick but he has no plans to trade it. Selecting Boston University center Jack Eichel next month will be “the easiest decision I think I’ll ever have in my general manager’s career.” … Murray said he would be willing to dish the 21st pick.