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Holland, Babcock to begin talks next week

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT – During 45 minutes of a larger than normally attended season ending news conference, general manager Ken Holland gave a state of the Red Wings two days after the team lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference first-round series at Tampa Bay.

While most of the questions pertained to Mike Babcock and where the veteran coach may wind up next season, Holland did address other topics, such as the team’s health at the end of the season and the career futures for guys like Johan Franzen and Daniel Cleary.

As for Babcock, Holland said that he and the coach will sit down next week to begin negotiating a new deal. Babcock’s current contract is set to expire on July 1.

Holland made it clear on Friday that money will not be an object in getting an extension done for Babcock, however, should he seek to explore his options, the Wings will not grant him permission to speak with other teams before his contract ends.

Here is what Holland had to say to the 40 or so credentialed media that assembled inside the Red Wings' locker room at Joe Louis Arena:

QUESTION: What is Mike Babcock’s future with the Red Wings?

HOLLAND: “We just talked very briefly this morning about a timeline. We plan to sit down next week and I guess based upon that conversation we’ll go forward. I think the biggest this is, I talked to him about an extension last summer and both basically agreed in September we didn’t want to talk about it during the year. We talked about window of opportunity. We thought it was important for our team to focus on the playoffs and making a long playoff run. We wanted all our energies to be focused on the team and whenever it was asked between either of us about his contract status we had no comment, but we didn’t really talk about it all year as well.

“Now that the season is over, we both understand a decision has to be made and we’ll start the process early next week.”

QUESTION: Do you have to make a sales pitch to him?

HOLLAND: “I think the sales pitch is what’s gone on the last 10 years. Mike knows the city, the passion of our fan base, the commitment of our ownership, going into a brand new building in two years. He knows our young players. I think Mike knows what goes on here.

“Whenever you interview somebody you have to talk about that, but Mike’s lived it for the last 10 years.

“Mike said he’s talked briefly to his wife.

“When you’re on the inside every day, grinding away, trying to figure out how to make your team a little bit better, dealing with the issues of the day. Things were going along pretty good at the 60 game pole and all of a sudden the wheels come off. We’re wobbling down the stretch, leaking oil. We wanted to make the playoffs.

“We respected each other’s thoughts and we felt it was best to wait till the end of the year.

“I look at Mike, he’s an unrestricted free agent, who’s in the prime of his career, we’ve had many other people in that situation before. Many we’ve kept. We’ve had the odd one that has moved on. The year’s over now and we have exclusive negotiating rights from now to the end of June. It’ll pick (up) next week.”

QUESTION: If you decide to part ways in the next 10 days would you allow Babcock to talk to other teams?

HOLLAND: “I think all that’s based upon us meeting and kind of getting at it.

“Anytime I go into any negotiations, those negotiations can go in many different directions and you sort of prepare yourself lots of directions and lots of options. Sometimes they go in a direction you didn’t think it would go and you deal with it at the time.

“He and I need to sit down. A solution is about making sure both sides get what they want to have accomplished.

“Even when I sit down with players, money is one of the things you talk about but there are other things you need to talk about.

“In Mike’s case he understands the relationship between the manager and the coach. We’ve lived together for 10 years. I hired him in 2005. I’ve known Mike since the early 90s when he was coaching in Spokane. I really to know Mike well when he was the coach in Cincinnati, half the team was Detroit and the other half was Anaheim so there’s a relationship.

“We’ve worked together. He came to my daughter’s wedding in British Columbia two years ago. Not only is there a professional relationship there’s a personal relationship.

“But I also know and understand in the end sometimes that doesn’t mean 100 percent it’s going to end the way you want.

“I think those relationships, the working together, knowing our players, knowing the way our program works, knowing the passion of the city, knowing history of the city, knowing the commitment of our ownership, knowing there’s a new building on the horizon, those are things that if you’re dealing with someone else I may have to walk through and get them to understand all that. Mike’s lived it. He’s walked in those shoes for 10 years.

“Now it’s a matter of us sitting down.

“I’m getting a little old. I’m not on social media. My kids are. I read some media stuff. I don’t read a lot of it. I do my job best when I have little sense of what’s out there, but that you’re in a little bit of a bubble.

“There’s tons of speculation about what’s going on. I don’t think any of that has happened. I don’t think he’s really thought about it. I haven’t really thought about it. We knew there was a time coming up between the end of our season and June where some decisions had to be made. Now the process starts.”

QUESTION: Has ownership say they want Babcock back?

HOLLAND: “I believe the answer would be yes, but because last summer when Babs and I talked, I think part of the reason why people are speculating he’s leaving because he didn’t sign last summer. I think this was an important year for Mike to see where our team is. We’re trying to transition on the fly. We’re trying to go from older to younger, so when we did talk last summer I told them we weren’t doing anything to this point and time.

“Look at the (Detroit) Tigers and the Red Wings. Mr. Ilitch owns both teams. When it’s been time to step up Mr. Ilitch steps up as good as any owner has in professional sports in my opinion.

“There are long term contracts with the players. If anybody is going to question our owner’s commitment to anything he owns I would say our owner is committed as anybody is in professional sports to the city and to the team.”

QUESTION: So money's no object, just team?

HOLLAND: “I don’t think money is ever an issue. Money has never been an issue with the Detroit Red Wings in my opinion. We’ve lost some people that when we’ve made decisions for competitive reasons that the money wouldn’t be well spent, but I don’t think we’ve lost a player over money. Decisions have been based on competiveness.

“I haven’t been right 100 percent of the time. We do make the odd mistake. You hope most of your decisions are right rather than wrong.”

QUESTION: Is it true that some unrestricted free agents have come to Detroit because of Babcock?

HOLLAND: “I think it’s the opposite. We can only keep 23 players and there’s a salary cap.

“I just sat in a meeting with Marek Zidlicky and Mike Babcock, and Marek Zidlicky couldn’t say enough good things in the short time he’s been here about Mike Babcock, the leadership he showed after Game 6 and the leadership he showed after Game 7. The way he runs a practice.

“When someone says something it gathers steam. We’re in a league with a lot of talented people. Mike is one of the most talented people at what he does and some can make the case that he’s the most talented.

“I think he’s a fabulous coach. I think he’s made our organization better. I respect how he pushes our players. I want a coach who pushes our players. And when you push people every day sometimes you wake up and hope he’s not pushing you anymore. Our team responds to Mike three years in a row. We made the playoffs in the last game of the work stoppage season. We needed to win four in a row to make the playoffs. Last year we won in Game 81 to make the playoffs after having 450-man games lost to injury. We were second in the league in that. We didn’t have Pav and Z down the stretch coming out of the Olympic break along with (Jonathan) Ericsson, along with (Darren) Helm and (Stephen) Weiss.

“At the 60-game pole we were right there with some teams for the top spot in the league. We made a couple of moves at the trade deadline, but all of a sudden we started to leak oil for whatever reason. I think Mike’s leadership allowed us to find a way to dig in, I thought, in the seven-game Tampa series. In Game 1, all we did was D zone coverage. Thanks to that and a great job by Petr Mrazek we were able to steal a win. I thought as the series got going on we played better and better and better against the highest scoring team that I think is one of the four or five best teams in the National Hockey League and they’ve proved it over 82 games. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a way to have that final blow. That best of seven series is a boxing match. They got off the mat in Game 4.

“I think Babs is an asset. I think he’s done a fabulous job of pushing our players and making them accountable and having structure. Did the players like Scotty Bowman every day? Did the players like Mike Babcock every day? Probably not. I like that. You come to work and you don’t really feel like working, but the boss makes you work.

“At the end of the day when you analyze everything as a player he’s a fabulous coach to play for.

“We went into July 1 and had 4-5 people we identified as right-shot defenseman and didn’t land any of them. Then we made a decision to re-sign Kyle Quincey. We were trying to turn a lefty into a righty and we couldn’t do it. It’s not like we were making a pitch to 30 people and didn’t deliver. We identified a small group of people that we thought could make us better. When we didn’t land them we decided to go with our kids.

“We’ve been the bridesmaid a few times the last 2-3 years in free agency, now it’s bad being the bridesmaid, but I disagree with what you’re saying. When we don’t get a player people think we should get and they want to identify the one reason why they’re not here sometimes there aren’t one reason there are lots of reasons.

“We got Brian Rafalski because he wanted to come home.

“There’s more of that going on.

“There’s a cap and we’re trying to go younger. We think we’ve drafted well. We think we develop well. The one thing we don’t get are those superstars that go from the draft table right onto our roster because you have to pick in the top five. We feel we have lots of good players that we hope that we wake up and when they’re 25 or 26, Pav and Z didn’t become stars until then. They were stars at 22, they were good young players.

“The days of anybody going on the free agent market and buying this guy and buying that guy, those players are available. If we’re going to get better we need the push from the younger players in our organization. That’s how you get better. Then is there a trade to be made, or a free agent to go after or a deadline deal to be made, but we have to continue to draft and develop and have them push through our system. That’s the league that I believe we live in when they push the salary cap in in 2005. That’s where it starts.

QUESTION: Would you be surprised a month from now if you’re introducing a new coach?

HOLLAND: “I don’t go to horse races and I don’t handicap stuff.

“Anything is a possibility in life.

“At the end of the day, my attitude is I want people that want to be here. Because I think you’re going to get the most out of your group and individuals when they want to be here.

“We started out the ’13-14 season with a lot of older guys and the plan was they were going to carry us for a year and we were going to put a bunch of kids in the American Hockey League and we were going to slowly transition. It happened six months ahead and it was actually better because we got to watch them on the fly, but then as the year ended last year you keep asking if they can do it again and do it again or did they just sort of get caught up in the excitement for 15-20 games.

“I’m not going to handicap it, but I’m also not going to tell you it’s 100 percent this way or that way. Anything can happen in life. I want Mike to stay. I’ve expressed that to him. Money isn’t going to be an object, I’ve expressed that to him.

QUESTION: Do you need to know a decision on Babcock sooner rather than later?

HOLLAND: “Yes and no. I don’t want to be waking up and things don’t go your way and I’m doing a coaching interview when everything has been filled. I think Mike’s the same. I think the month of May. I’d like to think over the next month I get a good sense of where we’re at. I had putting on deadline. It’s not only me. Mike’s in the mix and his thoughts, his family and his feelings. I’d like to think we’d start next week and we’ll talk once or twice and he’ll know what I’m thinking and I’ll know what he’s thinking then you go from there.

“Then it’s experience and gut instincts and then you go from there.”

QUESTION: Do you think he needs to explore other options before making a final decision?

HOLLAND: “That’s what we’ll talk about.

“What does he think of the team? What does he think of the process and then we’ll go from there.”

QUESTION: Would you let him explore options?

HOLLAND: “Right now no.

“We have exclusive negotiating rights to the end of June, but I don’t want to wake up on June 28 and it’s done no good for either of us.

“We have to do what’s right for the Detroit Red Wings. My managing style, I like treat people fairly and especially people that have given this organization and city their heart and soul for a period of time which I think Mike has given up 10 fabulous years and I want it to be longer than 10 years.

“Right now today, no chance, but I don’t want to sitting in this setting at the draft in the last few days of June, I don’t think that’s doing anybody good.

“You make decisions and determinations on the fly.”

QUESTION: What is your message to Jimmy Howard?

HOLLAND: “My message to these guys today was pro sports is a competition. The competition starts again in September. If you think you didn’t finish good here, it’s your responsibility to get out in the summer time and compete for a job and compete for ice time and if you think you’ve finished pretty good I’d get in a gym so you can continue on from where you’re at.

“We’re getting better. We’re only going to get better. One of the ways we’re going to get better is our players are going to compete against one and another and compete against themselves.

“We think between Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard, who has four years left on his contract and was our player voted to the All-Star game in January. Thought he was having a real good season. He got hurt. Petr Mrazek came in and went 10-1-1 I think. Jimmy came back and didn’t get it going right off the bat. We didn’t wait for him to get it going so we went back to Petr. Then we went back to Jimmy and back to Petr. Then Mike Babcock made a decision to go with Petr in the playoffs and he played great in the playoffs.

“We just met with Petr Mrazek, if you’re going to sit on your laurels we want Jimmy Howard to take the job. It’s a competition. We need great goaltending. We need the two of them to compete.

QUESTION: Will Johan Franzen return next season?

HOLLAND: “I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. When you’re dealing with people that have concussions and he’s a bit of a history. That’s a decision that’ll be determined between Mule and Dr. Kutcher.

“Certainly the message the last month he wanted to play. He told us a couple weeks ago we felt great and was on the right path. If we advanced in the playoffs he was hoping he’d be available. Then he had a bit of a setback.

“People with concussions it’s hard to know, but the hope is over the summer he gets 100 percent healthy.”

QUESTION: If Babcock goes elsewhere, do you have a Plan B in mind?

HOLLAND: “I’m hoping to fulfill Plan A. If I don’t deliver Plan A then I have to look at Plan B, C, and D. Right now Plan A is Mike Babcock.

“I think Jeff Blashill is an NHL coach in the making and will be behind an NHL bench at some point and time I’m just not sure where and when, but Plan A for me is to put Mike Babcock behind our bench.”

QUESTION: If Babcock returns would you let Blashill interview for NHL jobs?

HOLLAND: “I’m not doing anything with our coaching until we’ve got a coach in place. I’m not letting everyone go interview and then I have to do an interview process after the fact.

“I got some calls on Jeff Blashill last year. This year I might not get any calls on him. I think to be fair, the sooner we can come to a conclusion it’s better for everybody.

“Mike understands that. I understand that and it starts next week with Mike and I sitting down and based upon how that goes then where does it go next.”

QUESTION: Which players were playing through injuries in the playoffs?

HOLLAND: “(Justin) Abdelkader had a broken finger from the blocked shot in Minnesota. (Luke) Glendening in Game 4 when he went down he had a bad cut on the back of his hand. One of his tendons was 60 percent cut, fortunately it was on the back and not front. He had a splint. Ericsson played with a broken toe. I think in the morning before Game 1 they were playing soccer and he went to kick the soccer ball and on the follow through he kicked some cement. He played with a broken toe. He played with a pain killer before every game. Pav blocked a shot with his ankle with 10-15 games to go (in regular season), then blocked another shot there again and we shut him down for a little while. Bad, bad bone bruise. Sometimes with that it can take weeks to heal.”

QUESTION: Was Zetterberg healthy in the Tampa series?

HOLLAND: “I believe so.”

QUESTION: What was your message to the team?

HOLLAND: “We’re not a thousand miles away but we’re not quite good enough. That was sort of part of my message. Part of getting better is going to be that some of our young people continue to push. We’re going to explore July 1. But the players on July 1, they’re support players, they’re not franchise players, they’re not cornerstone players, they’re nice pieces. We need some of our younger players to continue to push. We’ve been fortunate to have superstars and franchise players here for a long time, going back to late 80s with Steve Yzerman, and with Pav and Z. In the mid-2000s, what guys like Kronwall, Zetterberg and Datsyuk did with some of those stars, they allowed them as Father Time did its thing, our team didn’t slide. We were able to stay competitive. In ’07 and ’08 and ’09 we were able to go on a playoff run. Some older players were here, Chris Chelios was here. They allowed us to compete. We needed those older players because they gave us leadership, they gave us a presence. They were taking us from one era or another era. Pav and Z and Kronner, I’m going to use those three because they got letters, they’re some of the best Red Wing players in the 90, 100 year history of the Red Wings. They’ve got lots to give, but we need our younger players to help, to pitch in. And they did, they are helping. It’s a transition, it’s a team building. It’s people in their prime, but we’re not going to go to the draft and pick a player and fuss over him because we know he’s going to be a superstar. We haven’t been bad enough for that to happen. We haven’t missed the playoffs for 24 straight years, the highest we’ve picked is 15 but we’ve got lots of good players. We got some young players here, we need them to continue to push. They’re great role models and we need them to push. It’s hard to win the Cup, it’s harder now to win the Cup for the Detroit Red Wings than it was 15 years ago when there was no salary cap and we had a bunch of superstars in their prime. Those days are over. Can we win the Cup? Yeah, I think this team can win the Cup, but we’ve got to figure out a way to get a little bit better. Saying all that the playoffs start for the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 8. We made the playoffs by one or two points, there was a team that had 98 points and missed. You can’t just wait for next year’s playoffs, you might not be a part of the tournament. The defending Stanley Cup champion and Presidents’ Trophy winner both missed the tournament. Do I like where we’re at? Yeah, I like where we’re at but we need to get better. We need to get better internally, we need to push. We got to explore free agency, we got to explore how so we player develop better and then we got to make the tournament and hope the experience of the Boston series and Tampa series are some experiences that some of those players that are 23, 24 and 25 can build upon. We can do it, we can be better. I saw our team evolve in the seven games of the Tampa series. It was a great series. How do we take the next step? We want to take the next step. We want to get to the final four. We want to have one more parade. There’s another window of opportunity for us next year but it starts in two weeks when our guys understand they’re going to the gym and they’re doing everything they can to make themselves a little better.

“Other than three or four teams that seem to go on a playoff run, there’s a lot of teams that are really close. We’re one of them. How do we separate ourselves? You separate yourself by making the playoffs again and finding a way to win a playoff series. We got to win some playoff series again. But before you can win a playoff series … I respect the job the other 29 teams are doing, they want to win every bit as bad as we do. We don’t want to win any worse than they do. If anything, we’ve had four Stanley Cup parades here since 1997, many teams haven’t had one. They’re just as desperate as we are. It’s competition. There’s no magic formula I’m going to wave that’s all the sudden going to make us better and there’s no formula in here … it’s two percent. We got to get a little bit better so we give ourselves another opportunity and this time we figure out a way to be the team that advances and is playing in round two. And when you get to round two you want to get to round three, but we’re not good enough, but we’re not far away.”

QUESTION: Which area of the team are you focused on improving, defense or scoring?

HOLLAND: “Where do you get those guys? We explored last year. We signed Kyle Quincey, he’s a top-four defenseman. I think you’re talking a superstar (no, I’m not, I’m talking about a guy who can actually put the puck in the net in the playoffs). I think we’ve got four or five top-four defensemen. We could use a superstar, but we don’t have a superstar, so we got to build our team a different way. We’ve got to build a team that is six-D, maybe seven or eight D deep so if we do have some injuries somebody goes in and you don’t miss a beat. We got to be 12 forwards deep, we got to check, we got to have a competition in goal. You need superstars, you need difference makers. We got some superstars, some difference makers but Father Time’s pecking away. How good can Tats be, how good can Nyquist be, how good can Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan, Dan DeKeyser be? I don’t know. You got to play. We got to challenge them. They’re going to get opportunity. Pav and Z weren’t stars at 2 and 23. They started to become stars at 26 and 27. You’re talking about a top-four D that can put 65 points on the board. We’re not getting those guys. We got to draft and develop. Saying all that we’re the only team in the NHL to make the playoffs 10 straight years. We’re one of nine teams to make the playoffs two years in a row. We’re one of seven teams to make the playoffs three years in a row but we haven’t been last man standing. So how do you make that team dramatically better? I don’t know. There is no hockey store that I’m going to jump into my car to this afternoon and … we’ve got four or five top-four D. But other than maybe Kronner they don’t put 55 or 60 points, they’re not Norris Trophy candidates but they’re good players. It’s a hard league to get 100 points in, it’s hard to make the playoffs every year. So how are we going to get better? We got to continue to draft, we got to continue to develop. We got to make these players better. Can I find a complementary player through trade, can I find a complementary player on July 1? Yeah, but I’m here to tell you they’re not going to be much better than the players we got. We’ve been trying, we’ve been out signing people, trading for people. We’re trying. The people you’re talking about, in my opinion, they’re not available. But saying all that, we went to Game 7 against Tampa Bay; that team led the league in scoring. That team is one of the best teams in the NHL. We had them down 3-2, we didn’t get the job done. We’re not a million miles away, we’re close. I know it’s frustrating. I’m frustrated, our players are frustrated, disappointed. We don’t want to have the team picture on May 1. Last year all everybody talked about for seven months was a right-shot defenseman. At the end of the day we didn’t have a right-shot defenseman, we had the No. 1 team in the league on the power play (No. 2 actually) and we had 100 points and made the playoffs and didn’t have a right-shot D, so we got to figure out a way to make ourselves a little better. I’d love that somebody would lop us a superstar. It’s not going to happen.”

QUESTION: Is Cleary coming back?

HOLLAND: “I don’t know. I got to talk to Dan. He and I talked a couple years ago. I got to talk to Dan.”

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