clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mike Babcock's Coaching Decision: The Year-by-Year Waiting Game

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the Spring of Babcock trudges on to its ultimate conclusion, we're left with little else but time to think about where the winningest head coach in Red Wings history will end up next season. Today I want to look at the situation from the perspective of what people think Mike Babcock wants and at how I think it all points to Babcock returning to Detroit for the short term. We'll hopefully find out later this week whether I'm right, but let's go over the factors at play.

1. Going Year-to-Year Has a Strong Precedent

Scotty Bowman is, in my mind, the greatest head coach in NHL history. Scotty Bowman is also the shrewd head coach who got to set his own terms in the coaching world by going year-to-year until he decided he was finished coaching altogether. When you're as in-demand as Mike Babcock is, you don't have to sign to a long deal to allay the worry that you'll fall out of favor. Babcock is the kind of coach who will have a job in the NHL as long as he wants one, so why in the world would he dedicate himself to a deal that keeps him with one team longer than he might actually want to stay?

2. Babcock Wants to win, Right?

We all know the guy loves winning. We know he wants Stanley Cups. So tell me... among the teams actually looking for a head coach and who haven't already given their own coaching staffs the vote of confidence (like Montreal and Pittsburgh), which team actually has the best chance to compete next season?

In looking at the teams still technically in the running, according to the experts (Edmonton, Toronto, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Detroit), it looks like the Wings are still the best of those teams. If I'm taking out the crystal ball and trying to look ahead, I can see Edmonton and Buffalo taking pretty big steps forward. I can see Toronto and Philadelphia getting better too. Hell, I can see Detroit getting worse and falling back to this pack.

What I don't see is an overnight cup favorite in this group. If there is one, it's actually probably down between Detroit and Edmonton, but Connor McDavid has played 0 NHL games so far and it seems Edmonton has already moved on to hire Todd McLellan anyway, so they're out.

3. The "Winning Rebuild" Formula Involves Coaching Turnover

Does Babcock want to take a team from the very bottom and take them to the very top? That sure sounds like it would be a wonderful accomplishment, but is it really any better than "just" winning a cup? Let's take a look at the cup winners since Babcock last earned the trophy.

  • Dan Bylsma
  • Joel Quenneville (x2)
  • Claude Julien
  • Darryl Sutter (x2)

Every single one of those teams went through a traditional rebuild cycle. Two of those four coaches took over the team that won them a cup during their first season with the team. Only Claude Julien took over his team while they were still actually considered a "rebuilding team."  Here are the names of the coaches who ran those four teams during the times they were tanking for generational talents.

  • Trent Yawney
  • Denis Savard
  • Terry Murray
  • Ed Olczyk
  • Michel Therrien
  • Mike Sullivan
  • Dave Lewis
Each of these coaches had a hand in the growth of their franchises into a cup-winner. Michel Therrien is the only one who still has an NHL job.

Looking at the Contenders

So let's look at the teams.

Toronto - The Maple Leafs have only recently dedicated themselves to admitting they're in a rebuild. Word is they're trying to trade Dion Phaneuf and possibly Phil Kessel to buy the assets they'll need to speed the process up. This process isn't short though. The Leafs aren't going to be contenders in the next three seasons in all likelihood.

Philadelphia - This is a team that hasn't committed to a reload. They have Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who are still in their primes, but they also have a GM who can't leave well enough alone. They're a tricky team to call because it's entirely possible that they could turn around quickly. It's entirely possible that they collapse into a total sell-off too. Without things changing, this isn't a contender though.

Buffalo - The Sabres admitted they screwed up and started the process a couple years ago. They're getting close to having the pieces in place, but the Sabres are still probably two years from making any sort of noise in the postseason, let alone making a serious run. Heck, we're not even sure that the guy they're likely to take at #2 in the draft is even going to play in the NHL next season.

Edmonton - The Oilers have torn down a couple rebuilds by this point and are no closer than Buffalo. However, Edmonton has Connor McDavid coming and he's touted to be something truly special (he's also not in the NCAA so it's a much easier decision for him on whether he'd want to sign his ELC immediately). Let's try to remember that Sidney Crosby didn't step directly out of juniors and into the Cup Finals though.

So What's the Rush?

If none of these teams is within two years of being considered cup contenders, what good is it to Mike Babcock to join them just yet? If recent NHL history is an indication, Babcock would be better off waiting until a less-experienced coach wore out his welcome after getting a rebuilding team to the cusp of having a well-timed coaching change really help gel the young core into a powerful contender.

The interesting thought here is that there's a chance Edmonton has already realized this and they are potentially doing the single most-savvy thing they could with the pending hire of Todd McLellan. If the Oilers know McDavid's first NHL coach is going to have to be replaced in a few years, why not make him a former Babcock understudy who can be fired and replaced with the REAL Mike Babcock just as the Oilers are ready to emerge.

...I'm probably giving the Oilers too much credit, but it honestly would be brilliant.

The Red Wings' Holdup

"Money isn't going to be an object." I've got to keep coming back to that Ken Holland quote. I believe he's not lying. However, Ken Holland has a potential future hotshot coach already in Grand Rapids with Jeff Blashill. The problem with retaining Babcock is that doing so is going to make it difficult to retain Blashill as well. The Wings own his rights, but Blashill is going to be a heavily-sought option for a team still looking for a coach and you can't keep a good coach out of the NHL forever.

Is Holland going to accept Mike Babcock signing on for a year-to-year plan where he's likely just biding his time before bolting to greener pastures if it means he loses out on the man being groomed as his replacement? Babcock is a great coach, but is he worth that kind of loss?

Well, money isn't going to be an object, but I could sure see that being one.