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Babcock meets the press in Toronto: Says there was no deal with Sabres; wanted to coach 'Canada's team'

TORONTO -- Mike Babcock had absolutely nothing negative to say about Terry Pegula, Tim Murray or the Buffalo Sabres during his introductory lovefest/pep rally/news conference Thursday in the Air Canada Centre.

In the end, however, the bottom line was simple: The Toronto Maple Leafs are an Original Six franchise and the place where Babcock's family wanted him to coach. The Sabres and Buffalo are not.

"I had a lot of opportunity to coach Canada's teams and enjoyed that immensely," Babcock said, referring to the World Junior Championships and the Olympics. "And whether you believe it or not, this is Canada's team and we need to put Canada's team back on the map."

The Leafs, of course, have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Babcock got a reported eight-year, $50 million agreement to coach them after seemingly coming close to signing on with the Sabres.

There are clear feelings in the Buffalo front office, in fact, that Babcock had agreed in principle to become the team's coach but he disputed that notion today.

"I talked to lots of teams," he said. "The hardest thing for the media to do was figure out where I was going because I had no idea where I was going. It was a hard decision. We went back and forth so many times trying to figure out the right thing to do.

"If you don't think Terry Pegula is a star, you're mistaken. If you think Tim Murray and I didn't have a great relationship, that's wrong too. In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs. This was the best fit for my family. When you put the two together, that's what happens."

Pressed by The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV about whether a deal was signed and he lied to the Sabres, Babcock first said, "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 did he have a deal?

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

The news conference was held in the ACC atrium, with cheering Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment employeees watching from the rear of the room and from a second-story balcony.

Babcock visited HarborCenter and First Niagara Center on Mother's Day and came away impresssed.

"I loved it. I thought it was great," he said. "Mr. Pegula and his story himself, borrowing $7,500 from his family and turning it into what he's done, the way he treats people, his wife, all of it. "I've known Tim Murray since when I coached nunior hockey. He's one of the best scouts. He's a hard worker.

"... They've got lots of great things. 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. They're going to hire a good coach and they're going to do well."

"Teams that get pushed out early on don't get their feelings hurt as bad," noted Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. "The teams that Mike liked the most are probably the ones with the most hurt feelings."

Babcock said he completely understood how the Sabres felt, noting that "If they don't like what happened in the process, I feel bad about that."

"Are they allowed to be disappointed? Yep," he said. "When the sun got up today, they'll get on with it, that's the nature of Mr. Pegula."

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