Mike Babcock is willing to let a good man go. The Toronto Maple Leafs head coach will not stand in the way of growth; he’s not afraid of empty-nest syndrome. Todd McLellan, Bill Peters, and Paul MacLean all graduated from Babcock assistants to head coaches in their own right. MacLean even won the Jack Adams Award that has eluded his mentor. (Tom Renney leapt from Babcock’s side to CEO of Hockey Canada.) Babcock gathered McLellan, Peters and MacLean on the floor of the 2014 NHL Draft for a group photo. Babcock’s smile is the widest by a Saskatchewan mile: So, when the time comes to let Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith ascend to bigger and better things, Babcock won’t beg him to stay. The Leafs won’t be digging in their claws the way they did with, say, assistant GM Kyle Dubas’s opportunity in Colorado. Some quick context. The NHLPA revealed the results of its players’ poll Wednesday, and Smith — somewhat surprisingly — received the most thumbs-up to this question: Which current assistant coach should be the next head coach? Smith took 8.3 per cent of the votes, edging out two names that frequently pop up in coach-hiring rumours, Washington’s Todd Reirden (7.4 per cent) and Chicago’s Ulf Samuelsson (5.1 per cent). “The thing with D.J. is, in my opinion he’s going to be a good NHL head coach. I always look when I’m hiring for serial winners: Wherever they’ve gone, they’ve won,” Babcock says.