Babcock has led the Wings to back-to-back 50-win seasons, and is one win away from collecting coaching win No. 200 in his career.
DETROIT -- The Red Wings are on a seven-game winning streak and are 9-1-1 in their past 11 games. Not only are they first in the overall NHL standings with 46 points, they are the league's highest scoring team, averaging 3.5 goals per game, while ranking second in defense with a 2.14 goals-against average.
The Wings are on pace to reach the 50 win mark for the third straight season and are looking to reach 100 points for the eighth consecutive season, matching the longest such streak in NHL history held by the Montréal Canadiens, who did it between '74/'75 and '81/'82.
The Red Wings have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons, the longest post-season streak in pro sports, and have had home-ice advantage in the first round for 15 straight seasons. They host Edmonton on Thursday in the first of a four-game homestand.
Thanks again to Mike for joining us. We'll open it up for questions.
Question: A lot of people thought the Red Wings only won because they spent more money than anybody else. When the cap came in, they spent the same amount as everybody else.
MIKE BABCOCK: Actually less.
Q: How are they doing it? And what is it like as a coach having Datsyuk and Zetterberg? You can play them on the same line or split them up.
BABCOCK: Well, I think it's like anything, every team has good players. You have Horcoff and Hemsky. We played the other night. I mean, you've got Brind'Amour, you've got Staal. You go on and on. Every team has good players, so you got to find a way to use them the best way you possibly can. The thing for us here obviously is we've had success here for a long period of time. There's a good culture in our room. Our work ethic and I think the bar is set here by Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Lidstrom. We have great leadership in people like Draper and Chelios. But those three skill guys I mentioned work so, so hard that they set the bar here and everybody else follows in. I think they've done a real good job and they're consistent guys and they work hard and they bring it on a nightly basis.
Q: They keep turning over players or finding players from Europe. They don't draft as high as everybody else does, but still manage to get good players.
BABCOCK: They've done a real good job. If you look at it prior, in the old system, they basically had no draft picks and still found a way to get it done. Now we keep way more of our draft picks. As you know, drafting is not an exact science. If it was, Zetterberg and Datsyuk would have been first-round picks and not where they were taken. But they seem to do a good job in finding players. We've got a kid name Ericsson in the minors, a 6'5" puck-moving defenseman that you would be ecstatic if he was your first-round pick, never mind being the 240th pick in the draft, whatever he was.
They've done a good job with that. I think in the new system you have to do a good job with that otherwise there's no way to get any better. We're real fortunate to have the high-end guys. You have to have difference makers in your lineup I believe to win on a consistent basis, yet they've got to have a good support group. If you don't have enough quality players, there's no way you can win day in and day out.
Q: You aren't following the script that's been handed out to everyone that there's parity and everyone is the same. You're above and beyond the other 29 teams in the standings. How do you do that in this salary cap world?
BABCOCK: That's a great question. I think the big thing here is if you think it's not tight for us each and every night, it is. But we have real good people. We have great leadership in our room. We have passionate hockey guys and they come to play each and every day. We've been fortunate enough to have good enough goaltending, good enough puck movement on the back end, and enough depth up front to generate offense but also play well defensively and have good specialty teams.
At this point, obviously 30 games in, things have gone real well for us. When someone told me the other day we were ahead of the pace of three years ago, I was shocked. But the league is tight, there's no question about it. We have to hope that we can stay healthy so we can maintain a good pace.
Q: You told me every night is a war. The numbers suggest you are very much ahead of the pack. Do you think it's misleading?
BABCOCK: Yeah, I would say on a nightly basis, doesn't matter who comes in here, or where we're at, I mean, they have an opportunity to beat us. There's no question about it. And vice versa. We just believe in our group, in each other. We're a pretty confident group. I think we're a pretty poised group, that we can find a way. The other night in Nashville, we played three games in four nights and we were dead. We've had some injuries here, so our lineup isn't as deep. I'm overplaying some people. Yet they found a way. I mean, we didn't do it with offense in the end. We had to play good defense because we just couldn't generate any more on the offensive side. We didn't have enough jump. I think that's a good sign of things. I think you have to go through some battles within your division or within your league that get you playoff ready. In the end, I believe there's going to be such parity that the difference between being 1 and 8 is going to be hardly anything. I think there's going to be tons of upsets at playoff time if you look at the numbers. We're just trying to get ourselves ready to be successful obviously for the long-term.
Q: There is a lot of parity but there's also a lot of three-point games out there. Do you as a coach have trouble, like some of us in the media, assessing how another team is playing, given all the overtime losses, shootout losses? A 10-game stretch, and you don't know how certain teams are playing with this system.
BABCOCK: You know, it's interesting you say that. What I do every day, I grab the stats and I look up the what they've done for me lately file. So what have you done in the last 10? Then I go through it all. I say, Gee, everybody's won four, five or six games. So everyone has won the same amount of games. How do you make up ground? But the thing I find is when you watch a team, what we do, we always pre-scout two games. You get a pretty good handle on them, see what they've done in their last five power-plays penalty kill-wise. You know whether a team is on a high or a low. We always like to play the team that's on the high. The team that's on the low, we're always scared to death they're going to bounce back and suddenly get going. A team coming in after a big win, sometimes we like that a little bit better here just because that helps us prepare our guys versus us telling the guys how good they are. I think the league is fantastic. I don't look at it like a lot of people like you said in the media do, three-point games. To me the parity's been great for the league. I like what towns have done with their teams.
There's a lot of good hockey clubs out there, a lot of well-coached teams that play hard on a nightly basis. And when you look at it, the other day I was looking at it, and I think it was from third place to, I don't know if it was 18 or 19 teams down, there was like three or four points. It was unbelievable how close it was. When you think about the battles, how long they're going to go on, you think about the trade deadline, is anybody ever going to trade anybody in this league any more, or is going to be like college hockey, you got what you got. I think that's exciting. A lot of the games I watch on TV, it's just a race up and down the ice. So that's a positive thing, as well.
Q: I'm sure it hasn't escaped you, your old Spokane team is doing well. One of the top teams in Major Junior hockey. Can you look back at your memories of cutting your teeth in Spokane.
BABCOCK: Well, I was there six years. I loved it. One of the greatest owners in sport in Bobby Brett there. He gave us an opportunity to have success, provided us all the financing, the rink, the opportunity. We had a ton of success when I was there. There's a guy named Bill Peters there now who is the head coach who obviously has improved himself as a coach and got better and better. Tim Speltz has been there for 18 years, the general manager. They've done a good job. I'm proud of them. They had a few off years, but now they're back at it. I think it's always very important to remember where you're from. My dad says that to me all the time. I go back to Saskatchewan in the summer, but I'm on the phone fairly consistently with the people in Spokane and always am proud and wish them well. There's no question that my wife and I loved the Pacific Northwest. We enjoyed our time there. We're enjoying our time here in Detroit. Q: Your goalie controversy, who the heck is your starter? You have a backup playing pretty good.
BABCOCK: Hasek is going to start against Edmonton. Who do we play after that?
Q: Florida or Washington.
BABCOCK: Florida. Ossie is going to play against Florida. Then we'll just keep on keeping on. The bottom line, if you're playing good, you get to play. If you're not playing as good, the other guy plays more. Ossie played more for a while while Dom was getting his act back together. What I found here in my time, and I've learned a lot by coming to Detroit. When I first arrived here, I was coaching Steve Yzerman, it was after the lockout, I had no idea that as an older player it was going to take you 20, 40, maybe even 60 games to get up to the level you're capable at. And then at playoff time, they're just different. I mean, they're just better. They just get better. The same is with Chelios and the same is with Hasek. You know what, I tell a story last year when I watched Vancouver. I thought that Linden was their best player in the playoffs. The reason I thought that is because he was out there competing and playing at the level he could because he was excited. They're not 20 any more. They're not pumped up to play each and every night like you need to be as a professional, but they still know how to play. And so I think Dom's bounced back, and I think he'll just get better as the year goes on. You got to tip your hat to Ossie because he's done a really good job of changing his style. I thought he played really well for us the other night in Nashville, when we had no jump left in us the second half the game. He kept us in there. He's done that this year. He was pretty good last year, but he's even better this year. So that's good for us.
Q: Dom played a lot of games for you last year in the end. You have that luxury of being able to spot him here and there.
BABCOCK: I think so. I don't think it's going to be spotting. I think it's going to be more -- I've said to Dom all along, I said to Dallas Drake and to Chelios, You guys aren't an everyday player in the first 40. There's just no way. We're not doing that. They know that anyway. They want to play every day and they're hard-headed about it. But the bottom line is, we need those guys in the second half and we need them in the last 20 and especially in the playoffs. So they might as well be as fresh as we can possibly make them.
Q: How come you can't beat Chicago? How are Zetterberg and Datsyuk different? From a distance they both look like tremendous offensive players. To me it look like Datsyuk can make the one-on-one plays.
BABCOCK: That's a good question. We haven't beat Chicago. They're 4-0 against us. I don't think we gave them enough credit at the start and then they flat out just beat us or we beat ourselves here in the game here in Detroit. I think that's a great thing for us. I think it's important for the league that Chicago is better. But I also think it's a great thing for our team to go through some adversity and that's going to be it. So we'll get an opportunity at them, and ideally the season will end 4-4. The second part of your question was Datsyuk and Zetterberg. It's interesting, I thought Zetterberg was the best player in the NHL in the first six weeks of the season. I hear everybody last night when I'm watching games talking about Lecavalier and Crosby. But the best player in the league right now is Datsyuk, without any question, in my opinion. He just upped the ante that much. He's playing real well.
They are different but they're good. The first thing you said was they're great offense players. Well, they are that and that's why you know them, but they're unbelievable defensive players. Datsyuk in the faceoff circle, if needed Datsyuk on the penalty skill, Zetterberg on the penalty kill, Zetterberg on 5-on-3 penalty kill. Zetterberg in the last minute. The same with Datsyuk. They're our best players up front. Lidstrom on the back. They work the hardest. They're the most competitive. They have the most fun. Then you add to that mix Draper and Chelios and Hasek and people like this that have been doing the same thing year after year, you got a pretty good group.
I think Pavel, if you just want to just bring someone out of your seat, simple flash, one-on-one, putting the puck on a string, there's no one that can do it like him. And then for just doing everything right, day in, day out, offensively, defensively, mistake-free, that's Zetterberg.
Q: Must be nice standing behind the bench sending them out.
BABCOCK: People talk about it all the time. When I came here the first year, they weren't the guys yet. They were starting to be. But they've kind of emerged and we've grown here as a team together and we're a much more youthful team. But you add the people that we've added, Filppula, Hudler, Kopecky, Cleary, Franzen and Samuelsson to the mix, we suddenly got not bad forwards. I mean, the whole thing here, Kenny often jokes about it, the day Nick retires, he's going to have a press conference about six seconds after him to announce his retirement. Nick drives the bus here.