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Mike Babcock faces ‘massive challenge’ as Maple Leafs coach

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Mike Babcock says he is taking over the struggling Maple Leafs with 'eyes wide open.'Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Mike Babcock says he is taking over the struggling Maple Leafs with ‘eyes wide open.’

TORONTO (AP) — Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock believes restoring the team will be a “massive, massive challenge.”

The former Detroit Red Wings coach takes over a team that finished 27th in the league this season. He said at a news conference Thursday that he is taking the job with “eyes wide open.”

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Babcock spent the last 10 years behind the Detroit bench. His new team is coming off a season that cost head coach Randy Carlyle, interim coach Peter Horachek and many other club officials their jobs.

Babcock arrives with great expectations and a reported $ 50 million, eight-year contract that makes him the NHL’s highest-paid coach. Babcock called the megadeal the Leafs’ commitment to success.

“They’ve made a long-term commitment to me. In turn, I’ve made a long-term commitment to the Leafs and our plan is to grow the team,” he said.

Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, who once played for Babcock, has pledged to rebuild the Original Six team that has little to celebrate about in recent decades.

“We have good people here,” said Shanahan. “We’re going to acquire good people and we’re going to make them better.”

Babcock celebrated his fourth birthday during the 1967 Stanley Cup, the last time the Maple Leafs won the NHL championship.

His record in Detroit was 458-223-105 and the Wings made the playoffs every year on his watch. His overall NHL record is 950-527-285.

The Saskatoon-raised Babcock, who is married with three kids, won the Stanley Cup in 2007-08 and led Canada to gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, the 2004 world championships and 1997 world junior championship.

Ex-Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is the center of attention at press conference in Toronto.Darren Calabrese/AP

Ex-Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is the center of attention at press conference in Toronto.

Buffalo, San Jose and St. Louis were reportedly among those interested in Babcock, who also got an offer to stay in Detroit.

“No Surprise, But Money Talks as Babcock Walks” was the Detroit News headline.

“But, seriously, folks, are you really going to fault Babcock, 52, for taking a king’s ransom to coach a team that he rooted for as a kid?” wrote Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom. “To take the reins of a franchise that is like the New York Yankees of Canada, but hasn’t won in so long, you have to have grey hair to remember?”

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