DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings are ready to start searching for a new coach ? and right now there's only one clear candidate.
Jeff Blashill might not end up getting the job, but he's the man general manager Ken Holland will talk to first now that coach Mike Babcock has left for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Once I have that meeting, I'll know what the next step is," Holland said. "I'm not going to interview 8-10 people. I might interview one. I might interview two or three. I'm going to decide that in the next few days."
Blashill is the coach of Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, and he was honoured as the AHL's outstanding coach in 2013-14. Holland said five teams called and asked permission to interview Blashill a year ago, but the Red Wings bumped up his salary and kept him.
"I owe it to Blash to talk to him first," Holland said.
Babcock's departure became official Wednesday when he was hired by Toronto. After 10 seasons coaching the Red Wings, there was always the chance that Babcock would return, but his decision to move on was not a complete surprise.
Babcock's deal with the Maple Leafs ? reported at eight years and $50 million ? clearly dwarfed what the Red Wings were offering. Holland said Detroit wasn't ready to offer more than a five-year contract.
"Any time you're an unrestricted free agent in the prime of your career, there's going to be opportunities that probably will stagger you," Holland said. "I'm aware of what the industry pays, but in order sometimes to get people, you've got to go above and beyond the industry standards."
Grand Rapids is still playing in the post-season. Holland is hoping to visit with Blashill without being too disruptive.
"He's certainly a leading candidate. I haven't made a final decision. I need to spend some time with him before I know anything," Holland said. "Hopefully next week I get over and spend some time with Blash."
Blashill was one of Babcock's assistants before becoming the coach at Grand Rapids. Blashill led the Griffins to their first AHL championship in 2013, but replicating Babcock's success won't be easy for whoever Detroit's next coach is. Babcock is the team's career leader in wins and led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008.
"We had 10 great years. After a process, Mike decided to go somewhere else," Holland said. "We're not going to fold the franchise. We're going to go to work."