"They left points on the table early, but there's no way to get your guys engaged early," Babcock said following Detroit's 4-3 win at United Center on Sunday that put the Hawks on the brink of elimination. "How do you get a team to play in September and October when the games in your mind as a player, no matter what you say to yourself, don't mean anything compared to what you just played in June? That's the facts."
Babcock knows from experience.
The season after he led Anaheim to the Stanley Cup finals (2003), the Ducks failed to qualify for the playoffs. They won only 15 games in the first three months of the season and never could recover. They finished with 76 points, 19 fewer than the 95 they earned the year before.
Babcock did lead the Red Wings back to the Stanley Cup finals in 2009 after they won it all in 2008, but he credited Marian Hossa for getting the Wings through the first two months of the season.
Hossa, who signed a one-year contract with Detroit in the summer of 2008, had 15 points in October that season and 11 more in November, giving him 26 points in the first 23 games that season. The Red Wings were 15-4-4, well on their way to a 112-point season.
"We brought in Marian Hossa and Hoss got us through the first two months," Babcock said. "When we were brutal, he was excited. He just carried us."
The Blackhawks, of course, had Hossa this year but they didn't have anyone carrying them through the first half of the season. They wound up losing 11 games before the All-Star break in which they either had the lead or were tied entering the third period.
That number extended to 14 games when it was all done.
"They lost all their players," Babcock said, referencing the 10 players that played for Chicago in the playoffs but departed after the parade due to salary cap restraints and otherwise. "I think they did a masterful job actually, considering. I think you're going to see a lot of this now because if you play good they take your players."
Babcock is referring to the salary cap, which many believe is the No. 1 reason for the parity that currently exists in the NHL.
Chicago could wind up not making the playoffs despite earning 97 points. Dallas needs to win Game No. 1,230 of the 2010-11 regular season in either regulation or overtime to get into the playoffs.
How do you get a team to play in September and October when the games in your mind as a player, no matter what you say to yourself, don't mean anything compared to what you just played in June? That's the facts. - Mike Babcock on Blackhawks' struggles
Last season the Rangers and Flyers came down to a shootout to see which team was the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers won it and wound up reaching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"I think you build a team and you hope your year is going to come before you've got to pay them all," Babcock said. "Once you have to pay them all, you pick the people you marry and you hope like crazy to fill in. But it's hard, I tell you."
The Red Wings seem to be the exception. They've earned 100 points in every season since 1998-99 and are 304-126-62 in the regular season since Babcock took over in 2005.
"We've been doing this for six years now and we've got 304 wins in six years," Babcock said. "I think that's been done in the '70s by Montreal, the '80s by Edmonton and now by us. That's never going to be done again in my opinion. I think it's impossible. The way the cap is, they take too much away."
The Blackhawks know all about that.
"That's a good hockey team, a real good hockey team," Babcock said of the Hawks, "but they only let you in the tournament in the end if you get enough points."