Ken Holland Still Knows What He's Doing
I have to admit something: it's been quite a long time since I've experienced a break up.
In a weird way, that's kind of how this entire Mike Babcock situation has felt. While there was nothing obviously wrong with the relationship between Babs and the Red Wings, the writing was on the wall that it was time for a mutual split so both parties can move on.
Looking back, it seems kind of obvious that Babcock was going to leave. There was his not signing an extension until the end of the season, his comments after the Wings' first round loss to the Lightning, then the reports coming out over the last few days of how much money he was being offered by the Sabres. Yesterday, we learned that the Maple Leafs came in with an insane 8 year/$50M contract that the Wings were very likely not going to match.
Through it all, Ken Holland played the part of the significant other who probably knew that this relationship had run its course, but put on a public face that belied those feelings. And the way that Holland handled this entire situation deserves praise.
From the very beginning, Holland has said all the things you'd expect him to. "We want him back." and "I want Mike to be here if he wants to be here" were the words of a man who believed that and wasn't just paying lip service to one of the best coaches in the NHL. There's no question that Babcock has had a positive effect on the Wings, particularly in the last couple of years while the roster has undergone a transformation and lost some serious talent. Holland would have been a fool to just let him walk.
But it's pretty clear that at some point Babcock expressed a desire to test the market. And rather than drag this process out, Holland granted that request and allowed other teams to talk to Babcock long before his contract expired on June 30. He didn't have to, but doing so gave Babcock what he wanted out of respect to what he did for the Wings and benefited the Wings because a quick decision was needed so Detroit could get ready for the draft and free agency. On top of that, he required teams that wanted to talk to Babs sign a compensation letter that said they agreed to provide a 3rd round pick should they sign him to a contract.
While Babcock was being wooed by the Sabres and Leafs (as the Sharks and Blues sniffed around), Holland continued to say the right things in the media. At no point was there even a hint of animosity on Holland's part. He participated in an interview with Babcock while in Prague, and as we agonized over whether Babs was going to stay or go, Holland never gave any indication that he was not happy with how this was playing out.
We heard the offers that were presented by Detroit to Babcock: $3.25M for 2-4 years, which would have made him the highest paid coach in the NHL. When Buffalo and Toronto got involved, 2 teams with billionaire owners, the concern was that they were going to outbid the Wings by a large margin. Holland said that money wasn't going to be a problem if that's what it came down to, perhaps his only misstep in the entire process. 2 days ago saw a report that Buffalo was offering $50M over 6 years, something unheard of for an NHL coach, but yesterday another report surfaced that the Wings had upped their offer to 4 years/$20M. That wasn't in Buffalo territory, but was still an increase.
When it was announced that the Wings were out and Toronto had secured a contract with Babs, I felt a small sense of relief, mostly because the process was over. Babcock said he would have a decision made by May 20th, and he stuck to his self-imposed deadline. At no point did Ken Holland publicly state that Babs had to make up his mind by a given date, merely stating he hoped something was done "in May". The contract that Babcock signed is a boon to his family financially, and is designed to keep him in Toronto for the entirety of their current rebuild. It was hard to be too upset at Babcock chasing that kind of money from an organization that would be a huge challenge to overhaul.
Ken Holland met the media after, and couldn't have handled his press conference better. Once again, he said all the right things, thanking Babcock for 10 years that saw the Wings win a Cup and seriously contend for a few more. He said he was happy for Babcock, but that at the end of the day when you've been in the same city for a very long time, you don't get more than 4-5 years on a contract. It was the perfect way to let Wing fans know that, while they may have been outbid financially, it was ultimately the term that was too much for the Wings to take on. And I can't think of a single Wing fan that would have been ecstatic about Babcock signing an 8-year extension when he had already been in Detroit for a decade.
At the end of the day, Ken Holland played this as perfectly as one could expect given the circumstances. This was a completely unique situation in the NHL, where a coach under contract gets to dictate where he wants to go. I believe that Holland knew that the chances of Babcock coming back were less than 50%, and like a shrewd general manager he was able to get a return for an asset. He came off extremely gracious in his presser today. He may have been the spurned party in this relationship, but you'd never know that he was upset about it by the way he acted publicly.
And after all was said and done, after he thanked his former coach and his lifetime friend for his 10 years of service, he said something that we all wanted to hear: he wants to go find his next coach, he wants to get some new players, and he wants to beat Mike Babcock.