To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights. This week, we take a look at which coach has the upper hand, Mike Babcock from the Detroit Red Wings or Claude Julien from the Boston Bruins.
Mike Babcock and Claude Julien are competitors and equals in the NHL. Come February, when they travel to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the dynamic will change. Babcock will be Julien's boss and they'll be after the same goal, another Olympic gold medal for Canada.
Babcock is reprising his role as Canada's head coach and Julien is joining his staff as an associate coach. He's the newbie on the staff that also includes associate coaches Lindy Ruff (Dallas Stars) and Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis Blues), who were with Babcock at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
But that dynamic is for another day. Wednesday night, Babcock and Julien will be competitors going head to head in what could turn into a battle of coaching wits as the Bruins and Red Wings, newly formed Atlantic Division rivals, meet for the second time this season (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Their resumes are noteworthy and their teams are contenders, but who has the edge in this battle of two of the League's elite coaches?
Babcock's intangibles include his cerebral thought process and a strong-willed approach.
He makes a decision and lives with the consequences, good or bad. He doesn't openly second-guess himself. He never lets injuries cloud the vision he has for his team. He refuses to let excuses get in the way for reasons his team lost. He's brutally honest and willing to tell a player, even a highly paid star player, that what they're doing isn't good enough.
For those reasons and more, Babcock has been one of the most successful NHL coaches of his generation. They're also the biggest reasons why he's returning behind the bench for Canada's Olympic team. Canada's executive director Steve Yzerman calls him "a strong leader."
Babcock never played in the NHL, but he's been proving himself in this League since 2002-03, when as a rookie coach he led the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games. In 2005, he was handed the keys to the Red Wings and has done nothing but continue the tradition of excellence in Hockeytown.
Detroit won the Stanley Cup under Babcock in 2008 and returned to the Final in 2009, only to lose in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Red Wings have won the Presidents' Trophy twice under Babcock (2005-06, 2007-08) and their streak of consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has increased to 22 (and counting?). Detroit is 63-50 in the playoffs under Babcock.
Babcock has compiled a 387-177-83 regular season record with the Red Wings, who are 11-7-7 this season. Detroit has been among the League's top 10 defensive teams in six of Babcock's eight seasons. It has also finished seventh or better in goals-against in six seasons.
He has a 456-239-116 overall record in 10-plus seasons as an NHL coach. His 456 regular-season wins are more than any coach since 2002-03. He was the second fastest coach to reach 400 wins, doing it in his 699th career game.
In addition to his NHL success, Babcock is the only coach in the International Ice Hockey Federation's Triple Gold Club. He won the World Championship in 2004, the Stanley Cup in 2008 and Olympic gold in 2010.
Julien is similar to Babcock in that he's determined and diligent. And, like Babcock, Julien is a Stanley Cup champion (2011) and a Cup Final runner-up (2013).
The Bruins have become one of the top defensive teams in the League and one of the more structured teams as well without losing their "Big Bad" reputation. Boston is the best defensive team in the NHL this season (1.83 goals-against per game) and has finished first, second or third in goals-against in four of the past five seasons.
The Bruins' offense hasn't suffered either, as they have routinely been one of the better offensive teams in the NHL under Julien. They were second in the League in goals-for in 2008-09, fifth in 2010-11 and third in 2011-12. They're currently ranked ninth with 2.79 goals-per game.
Boston is 272-152-58 with Julien as coach. It has made the playoffs in each of his first six seasons and has advanced to at least the second round four times, with two trips to the Cup Final.
Unlike Babcock, though, Julien did not have immediate success in the NHL. He had to make two stops along his coaching journey before he got to Boston and established himself as an elite coach.
Julien's first stop came with the Montreal Canadiens. He took over roughly halfway through the 2002-03 season, but Montreal missed the playoffs. He got them into the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2003-04, his only full season behind the Habs' bench. Julien was fired halfway through the 2005-06 season.
He found work that summer as Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello hired him, but Julien was fired with three games left in what was an otherwise successful 2006-07 season. New Jersey had 47 wins and 102 points, but Lamoriello pulled the plug anyway after 79 games.
Julien was hired by the Bruins a few months later and with time and trust, he's been given a chance to become one of the best coaches in the League.
They are the very definition of successful NHL coaches because their teams have stayed consistently strong despite changes made through the years. In Babcock's case with the Red Wings, we're talking about drastic changes because of a who's-who of recently retired players such as Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek, Brian Rafalski, Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Chelios.
Maybe it's partially a result of those departures out of Detroit, but in this elite coaching matchup, Julien gets the slightest of edges right now based on recent results, including the Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and a return to the Cup Final in 2013. The Red Wings have not advanced past the conference semifinals since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2009.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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