When Mike Babcock hunkered down with his family Tuesday night to examine the contract offers extended by Buffalo and Detroit, the signs pointed to him joining the Sabres. He’s expected to announce his decision Wednesday.
A source in Babcock’s NHL coaching fraternity predicts the decision will be Buffalo. Money has a way of influencing people, even those who say it’s not about the money.
The Sabres’ contract offer was far better than Detroit’s reported extension of $3.25 million per season for four years. It was so much larger, a source told The Buffalo News on Tuesday, that it would alleviate any concerns Babcock’s family had about leaving its beloved Michigan.
Buffalo’s offer was rumored to be in the range of $5 million per season, with WGR-AM 550 quoting a source as saying the long-term package could total about $50 million. Babcock’s last contract was for $2 million annually. Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is reportedly the league’s highest-paid coach at $2.75 million.
Money was merely one factor in Babcock’s decision, but it’s an important one on several levels. In addition to adding to his own bank account, Babcock has talked often of boosting the salaries of NHL coaches. The source inside that fraternity said Babcock doesn’t understand why hockey coaches are paid so much less than their professional sports counterparts. By accepting the Sabres’ offer, Babcock would significantly raise the bar for hockey’s bench bosses.
The coach was set to have one last talk with Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland on Tuesday, but Detroit was not believed to be interested in joining a bidding war. Babcock exchanged emails with Sabres GM Tim Murray about Buffalo’s offer, ESPN.com reported.
“I hope to make a decision by morning, but I’m still very much undecided,” Babcock told ESPN after echoing similar statements to the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.
The best chance Detroit has of keeping Babcock, the coaching source said, is if he decides he doesn’t have the patience required to join the Sabres. Though the hardest part of Buffalo’s rebuild is likely behind the team after consecutive last-place finishes, the Sabres could still struggle to make the playoffs until their prospects get their footing.
While Detroit is getting older, the Red Wings still figure to contend for the division title for a few more seasons.
Babcock has also reportedly interviewed with Toronto, St. Louis and San Jose, but Buffalo and Detroit entered the final hours in front. Detroit has Babcock under contract until June 30, so the Sabres would owe the Wings a third-round draft pick as compensation for allowing them to negotiate with the coach. The pick is transferable anytime during the next three years. Buffalo owns four third-round selections in 2016.
If Babcock chooses to extend his 10-year run in Detroit, the Sabres will need to search elsewhere for the 17th coach in franchise history. Ottawa minor-league coach Luke Richardson is the leading candidate, with Pete DeBoer and Dan Bylsma among the experienced coaches available.
There’s no denying Babcock is the first choice. The Sabres put together a comprehensive package for the future Hockey Hall of Famer, giving him a tour of their arena and HarborCenter on May 10.
While Babcock is just getting to know Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, he’s known Murray since they worked together with Anaheim from 2002 to 2004. Murray was the director of player personnel and Babcock was coaching in the NHL for the first time after two seasons with the Ducks’ minor-league team.
When Murray fired coach Ted Nolan last month, he said his ideal replacement would be someone he could talk to on a daily basis. While the coach and GM are friendly, the source inside the coaching fraternity said Babcock likes that Murray is often away from the Sabres on scouting trips and doesn’t micromanage the roster on a daily basis.
The hiring of Babcock would boost the Sabres’ hockey profile and bring hope that the team’s rebuilding process will accelerate with a proven winner on the bench. The answer to whether he’ll accept the role is coming soon.