The Man Who Saved Detroit's Season: Mike Babcock
Here's why Mike Babcock should get the Jack Adams Award, and ultimately why he might not wind up winning it.
One of the first articles I wrote here at WIIM this past summer was an opinion on how Mike Babcock was the best coach in the NHL.
Nearly a week into the Wings' offseason and all of Hockeytown has begun the process of moving onto the future and re-imaging the team into a competitor for next season, from free agency to the draft and ultimately trade talks about getting scoring wingers and top-4 defensemen. Some have even chosen to ignore the NHL altogether and watch the Grand Rapids Griffins attempt a repeat at Calder Cup greatness. Most will forget that the NHL Awards will be creeping up on us before we even realize it.
But in this little corner of the Earth, with days as cold as the hearts of the Boston Bruins, comes a visible blank stare from my eyes that gradually transforms into a sarcastic laughing grin, one that will mumble the words: "Patrick Roy is probably going to win the Jack, right?"
Patrick Roy could very well be voted as the best coach in the NHL for this season. He took a team that was awful and made it a division champion that would later be axed out by a Swiss forward playing on a different and more mediocre team than the one he had played on prior, as if that didn't draw any parallels to the brains of Wings fans. (Before you argue, the Islanders were good last year, okay?)
What's the likely outcome of this scenario? He'll accept his award in Vegas, move on with his career, and oversee a team that will crash to the face of the analytical Earth because five players on an otherwise mediocre roster ran with unbelievable shooting percentages and a goaltender who rode the benefit of the justice system and the equivalent of three goaltending coaches all the way to game 7 in the opening round.
We've seen the same from a familiar and recent winner as well.
Paul MacLean won the Adams last year, only to oversee an awful season following that of a Stanley Cup Playoff appearance. Goaltending last year was the story in Ottawa, and MacLean got credit for coaching injuries into the playoffs. While we usually see logic in award voting, let's not forget the PHWA (who thankfully do not decide on the Jack Adams) also voted two Alexander Ovechkins to the NHL's All-Star First Team. In somewhat of a bombshell, the Broadcasters' Association picked the former Detroit assistant over Bruce Boudreau's renewed Anaheim Ducks and Joel Quenneville's record-setting and eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The result? Bruce Boudreau's team is going to embark on a second round battle of the ages, Quenneville's team "upset" the formerly universal Stanley Cup favorites, and the Ottawa Senators are out of the playoffs trying to cover the bottom line and lower their cost-per-point ratio.
In short, the Jack Adams Award is a highly inconsistent and overly subjective award given out to a coach who falls into certain categories, as described by PuckDaddy's Greg Wyshynski:
- The Guy Who Gets Hired In The Off-Season And Turns A Crappy Team Into A Really Great Team, Defying Our Expectations.
- The Guy Who Gets Hired In-Season And Turns What We Thought Would Be A Good Team That Started Crappy Into That Good Team We Thought It Would Be, Thus Reaffirming Our Analytical Prowess
- The Guy Who Coaches Through Incredible Adversity To Produce A Playoff Team
- The Guy Who Dramatically Improves Some Facet Of The Team By Doing Something Obvious That Voters Can Point To And Say, "SEE, LOOK, AWESOME COACH, RIGHT?"
Mike Babcock is the guy who fits the number three slot. Here he was, coaching a team without two of the league's best players, pushing a bunch of kids onward into the playoff hunt. Mike Babcock was the second grade schoolteacher leading a confused class of cooty-fearing nose-picking kids on a scavenger hunt around the country, with each stop garnering the possibility of coming away with one or two points, often resulting in zero.
The Detroit coach earned the benefit of having a red hot Gustav Nyquist score at a blistering pace down the stretch, and he oversaw the 23rd straight playoff appearance that many feared would never happen.
The Jack has often eluded Babcock, from one of the top and all-but-forgotten 2005-06 campaign to the under-appreciated cup-winning and Presidents'-Trophy-winning 2007-08 team. Fans and critics everywhere consistently point to Lidstrom and the rosters that Kenny Holland had assembled for greatness. However, the coach is the quintessential piece to the winning puzzle.
Nobody ever doubted Scotty Bowman's legacy, even if he coached two of the greatest teams ever assembled, so why does everyone outside of Detroit immediately turn a blind eye to Babcock?
In Wyshynski fashion, I'll draw a comparison to Hollywood. Mike Babcock is Leonardo DiCaprio. You know his name, you've seen his movies countless times, you're either a major fan of his or you're not (no inbetween), and you pay for his salary every time you attend a viewing of the product. You have won the recognition and affection from all sorts of colleagues and supporters, you've pulled off the impossible, and yet you have yet to win the single crowning individual achievement that will be the cherry on top of the sundae.
Matthew McConaughey was the same exact story, and while he isn't quite Scorsese winning a makeup award, he won on the back of an excellent movie, and now has a trophy to go along with a pretty good career. Mike Babcock is not Scotty Bowman, just like Scorsese isn't Steven Spielberg. But he's about as close to the top of his craft as one can reach.
Mike Babcock, in an Olympic year nonetheless, juggled just about everything. He turned the star-studded and supposedly offensive Canadian powerhouse into the Olympic version of the 1990s New Jersey Devils, trap included. Carey Price had a GAA under 1.00. That's incredible, and it's wholly a product of Babcock's. Nobody says a word about this, only pointing at extremes like, "Canada was lucky to get by" or, "They're Canada. Of course they won."
Good teams don't just win. Would the Wings have won back to back cups, or more importantly, the 97-98 cup had it not been for Scotty Bowman? I really doubt it, and I'm sure most of you do too.
Here's where I draw the hard line against the critics: Mike Babcock coached a team that lost a large majority of its salary cap and a total of 421 man-games lost to injury into the playoffs. If that doesn't add to the diverse portfolio that this man has built over the years, then his resume might as well sit in limbo forever.
The 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings were Mike Babcock's Dallas Buyers Club.
When the only two players who suited up for all 82 games of a season were Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey, chances are there was a pretty damn good coach behind the bench serving as a consistent calming voice. I guess Kenny Holland is Jared Leto here.
Babcock managed everything from X's and O's to player maturation. He guided Tomas Tatar through a death in the family. He made some curious decisions along the way in terms of personnel, sure, but he pushed this roster to its limits under a condensed schedule. He took the 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins to the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's nothing shy of remarkable.
The award goes to the "Coach of the Year," not "Best Coach Up Until This Point." Still, we've seen these sorts of things all around every industry and in all sorts of award voting.
If Mike Babcock doesn't win the Adams this season, he probably never will. At least he'll win the NHL's award for "Best Hair Over 50."
Without guessing finalists, who wins the Jack Adams?
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