The response was disarming, and far more politic than the ones he gave to Murray during a job interview in the late 1990s, when Florida was looking for a minor league coach. After the interview Murray told his nephew Tim, the Ducks' director of player personnel who was then Florida's amateur scouting director championing Babcock, "I'm not going to hire that arrogant bastard."
"Overbearing? Yes," Leclerc says of Babcock, who joined the Anaheim organization in 2000 as coach of its minor league affiliate in Cincinnati. "Right from his first training camp with us he had this incredible energy. It took a while to get used to. He came on strong."
Babcock, who grew close to Murray in training camp before the 2001-02 season, litters his conversations with bromides about "concentrating on the process and not the prize" and "living in the present," coach-speak that plays well in the cloistered dressing room. The Ducks have embraced it, most notably Kariya, a former 50-goal scorer. In a perfect NHL, in which skilled players would be not be impeded by obstruction, and the league's television ratings would dwarf bowling's, the dynamic Kariya would score a passel of goals every year. This season, in the Dead Puck era on the counter-punching Ducks, he produced 25, played consistent two-way hockey and provided strong leadership.
The most rewarding season of his career also has been his most trying. On Dec. 27 he was taking a nap at his family home in North Vancouver—the Ducks were in town to play the Canucks—when he awoke to sounds of family members crying. His father, T.K., had left a yoga class and collapsed in the parking lot. He was dead at 60. Kariya played against the Canucks the next night, just as he thought his father would have wanted. "When I think of my dad," Kariya said before Game 4 against Minnesota, "I don't think of him watching from the stands. It wasn't about what I did on the ice, it was what we did together off it. The times we'd go to a driving range together, things like that. They're just as important, just as memorable."
The Mighty Ducks are poised for something memorable now, something Thomas said first seemed possible after the triple-overtime playoff opener in Detroit on April 10, in which Giguere made 63 saves and allowed them to steal a win. They have played textbook hockey in 13 of their 14 postseason games, allowing one goal on 123 shots in their series against the Wild. They also won 61% of the face-offs.
In these quixotic playoffs the Mighty Ducks symbolize faith and renewal. If nothing else, they have proven the widespread notion that Detroit, Colorado and Dallas are the only Western Conference heavyweights to be, pardon the expression, a canard.