Sports Hockey


Can’t blame Buffalo for feeling snubbed by Babcock

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock watches his team warm up prior to the game against the Dallas Stars in this file photo taken February 21, 2015. (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports/Files)

Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock watches his team warm up prior to the game against the Dallas Stars in this file photo taken February 21, 2015. (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports/Files)

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In Toronto, his three-storey image was plastered on the outside of the Air Canada Centre.

In Buffalo, it wouldn’t be surprising if his photo was tacked up on the post office wall as Public Enemy No. 1.

OK, we might be exaggerating here. But Bill Belichick and Tom Brady likely are more despised in the Queen City than one Michael Babcock, albeit not by much.

Still, Babcock admitted Thursday that he understands how Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his team’s legion of loyal fans might be feeling like the groom who is left standing at the alter after being informed that the veteran coach had shunned Buffalo in favour of the Big Bad Buds north of the border.

“Are they allowed to be disappointed? Yep,” Babcock said. “When the sun got up today, they’ll get on with it.

“That’s the nature of Mr. Pegula.”

Wait a minute.

Doesn’t Pegula, the moneybags western New Yorker who almost single-handedly is revitalizing Buffalo’s arena district, have enough money to actually buy the sun? (By “sun,” we’re referring to the fiery ball in the sky, people, not this publication).

If so, maybe he’ll put a permanent eclipse on Toronto. Then again, this city’s hockey team has been in the dark ages since 1967, so such a bold move would not be necessary.

Still, you can’t blame the fine sports fans of Buffalo for feeling snubbed.

The Sabres thought they were pretty much on the verge of a deal with Babcock. So did the team’s supporters.

Imagine that, they thought. First, Rex Ryan to the Bills, then Mike Babcock to the Sabres. The top coaching free agents in two leagues ending up in Buffalo. Cue the civic pride.

At one point on Sunday, a member of the Buffalo media was walking through his neighbourhood when he saw an employee of the Sabres organization. Don’t be surprised if we have a big announcement in the next couple of days, he was told.

The offer from Pegula was believed to be in the same ballpark as Babcock received from the Leafs, somewhere in the eight-year, $50-million US range. But even Pegula’s wallet wasn’t convincing enough.

At about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday came the ill-fated call, one that caught the Sabres off-guard. Thanks for the offer, they were told, but the Babcock landing spot would be a 90-minute drive to the north.

“When a team like Toronto is involved, you can never be surprised,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said. “It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s in Toronto.

“Am I surprised? I don’t even know how to answer that. Nothing surprises me.”

Asked by representatives of The Buffalo News and Buffalo station WGRZ-TV about whether a deal was signed and if he had lied to the Sabres, Babcock replied: “That ‘lying’ word is an interesting word. I’ve been in the public eye for a long long time and I don’t think that goes anywhere near who I am or what I’m about.”

But was there a deal in place?

“No. Did we work on financial stuff and term? Absolutely.”

Social media immediately blew up when those questions were asked, with Twitter saturated with barbs that the Buffalo media and Sabres fans were just sore losers.


For the record, the three Buffalo media members on hand -- Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, Adam Benigni of WGRZ and Shawn Stepner of WKBW -- are three of the best in the biz. They asked what needed to be asked.

Besides, imagine if it had been the Sabres who had come out of the shadows to scoop Babcock up from the Leafs? Would the Toronto press have reacted any differently? Of course not.

As for Babcock, he had nothing but praise for Pegula, GM Tim Murray and the Sabres, who gave him a tour of HarbourCenter and First Niagara Center on Mothers Day.

“I loved it. I thought it was great,” Babcock said. “Mr. Pegula and his story borrowing $7,500 from his family and turning it into what he’s done, the way he treats people, his wife, all of it.

“They’ve got lots of great things (but) in the end, I couldn’t make it go for my family. And I wanted to be the coach of the Maple Leafs. That’s it.”

Those would be the same Maple Leafs who never seem to win games in Buffalo, right coach?


Do you feel sorry for Buffalo sports fans?

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