Mike Babcock’s season is over, which means the Season of Mike Babcock has begun.
The Detroit coach is set to become hockey’s biggest free agent, with suitors from coast-to-coast ready to woo the future Hockey Hall of Famer. He declined to address what awaits him following the Red Wings’ Game Seven loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, saying it can wait until the organization’s season-ending news conference in a couple of days.
That won’t stop others from talking about his future.
“He’s a really good coach,” Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson told the media in Amelie Arena. “I’m sure a lot of teams want him.”
There are five teams without a coach: the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils. Recently eliminated St. Louis is weighing the status of coach Ken Hitchcock. Boston, which fired General Manager Peter Chiarelli, could follow by letting go of Claude Julien.
Whichever team lands Babcock will pay a hefty sum. The 52-year-old will become the NHL’s highest-paid coach, blowing past the reported $2.75 million salary of Chicago’s Joel Quenneville. The Sabres, Maple Leafs and Flyers would have little trouble meeting Babcock’s monetary demands, while the Oilers boast the future services of Connor McDavid and a new outlook with Chiarelli in charge.
Babcock has been with the Red Wings for 10 seasons, and he gave the impression that time is up for him and the current roster.
“Three of our best players are 34, 35, 37,” Babcock said of defenseman Niklas Kronwall and forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. “We’re a team that has changed a ton of players, and we’re a team that’s added a lot of youth to our lineup, but right now on the outside, they don’t pick us as a Stanley Cup contender.
“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming. But who’s going to replace Pav? I don’t think Pav’s going anywhere right way. But I mean, that’s what you’ve got to do. In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards. We've been drafting good and we've been developing good, but we've been winning too much. That’s the facts.”
The Red Wings have made the playoffs for 24 straight seasons but last won the Stanley Cup in 2008. Babcock noted that Tampa Bay is on the upswing after losing recently and drafting high.
“They were bad here for long enough that they were able to rebuild and get good young players, and young players at key positions,” Babcock said. “We are what we are.”