DETROIT – Will he or won’t he?
Who knows? Only Mike Babcock, and, well maybe his wife.
Throughout the season, and even Friday afternoon after the Red Wings posed for the annual end-of-season team photo, and players cleaned out their lockers, Babcock wasn’t conveying any hints as to where he’ll be coaching in September.
However, he did drop one juicy nugget that could have some bearing on his decision.
“I talked to my wife yesterday morning for the first time” about a new contract,” Babcock said. “Everyone thinks Ken Holland's the boss. Actually, my wife's the boss. That conversation didn't go very well, didn't last that long. I imagine over the next while we'll have some conversations about this and decide what we're going to do. What I find every year is after losing or after winning, you take some time away to clear your head and then you make your decisions based on what's right for you and your family and the situation you're in.”
Why didn’t his conversation go so well?
“It just got heated up pretty quick,” Babcock said. “How's that?”
Well, if Maureen Babcock is the boss, what does she want him to do?
“You'd have to get her down here and ask her,” he said.
Aside from the brief discussion he had with his wife on Thursday, Babcock said he hasn’t given his coaching future much thought. Now that the season has ended, negotiations can begin.
“Ken and I haven't talked. We talked about it once and then we haven't talked about it at all,” Babcock said. “In the next 10 days we're going to talk about it. If Grand Rapids wins, we'll go together to the game on Sunday, a couple hours over, a couple hours back. … I think some think there's been this grandiose plan. There's no plan. I've been using my energy to try to get into the playoffs and to play hard and execute well in the playoffs. Now obviously this is the next thing.”
Some believe that Babcock would have signed an extension with the Wings by now if he was serious about staying in Detroit. Others say he’s looking out for his coaching brethren, who make three times less on their first NHL contract than coaches make in other sports.
But he does not want the duel responsibility of being coach and general manager, as some have suggested.
“I am part of making decisions here but I have no skill set to be the general manager,” Babcock said. “Anybody who thinks I want to go somewhere to be a general manager, they're talking to the wrong guy. I'm a coach, I love to coach. I love the players, I love the competition, I like being close to the ice. I love what I do, I think I'm good at it, I like doing it. I have no interest in sitting where Kenny sits at all.”
Last summer, Holland spoke to Babcock, who is finishing his third contract with the organization, about an extension. Once a deal wasn’t reached by training camp, both sides agreed to table the contract talks until after the playoffs.
“We thought it was important for our team to focus on the playoffs and making a long playoff run,” Holland said. “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.”
This was a rough week for the Red Wings and Babcock, who lost in Game 7 after taking the heavily-favored Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink of elimination on Wednesday.
Now begins a period of uncertain for Babcock and his family.
He knows he’ll be coaching somewhere in his 13th NHL season next fall, but where? He’s also not looking forward to the process.
“The worst day I've had in coaching in Detroit period in my 10 years here was yesterday, bar none,” Babcock said. “Was that because I thought in my heart we were going to win that series and we should still be playing, was that because of what's coming? I don't know the answer to that but I just know that there's a 24-hour rule in my house for sulking and I used all 24 hours.”
Babcock has always said that he’s in the winning business. Unfortunately, three of the past four seasons the Wings have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
The window for making another run at a Stanley Cup championship with this group is closing. The leadership core of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall are in their mid- to late-30s.
Babcock alluded to it in his Game 7 post-game press conference, saying that the younger guys need to be stars if this current cast of players is to become Cup contenders like their predecessors.
“When I first got here, Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Kronwall were making the older players that were here, they made them better,” Babcock said. “They were the kids that came and made them better and gave them an opportunity. We had a three-year run there, I think seventh, eighth, ninth. We need to have another run. We're not a million miles away. The way we played against Tampa in Games 3-7, you think you're a Cup contender. When you lose and you're out in the first round three out of four years, it's depressing. The good thing about being here is the expectations are high. I put expectations on our board all the time. Our owner expects you to be successful. I love that. You're supposed to win. You're not supposed to be out.”
It would seem that Toronto, Philadelphia, Buffalo and San Jose – who all have vacancies after missing the 2015 playoffs – would be highly interested in a coach with a resume that includes a Stanley Cup championship and two Olympic gold medals. Also, should Babcock become the biggest coaching free agent in the sport’s history on July 1, then, teams like St. Louis, Edmonton and Pittsburgh may show interest in signing him.
“Are you sure of that or is that just what you speculate?” Babcock said. “I didn't hear all that stuff. But I don't have the answer to that question. I'm flattered, I really am. But this is what I'd say to you: my wife and I will go through a process and Kenny and I will go through a process and within 10 days we'll have a plan. I'm not letting this go forever and neither is Kenny. We'll decide what we're going to do.”
Should Babcock have coached his last game with the Red Wings, he leaves as the winningest coach in franchise history with a 458-223-105 record – that’s a .649 winning percentage. With him behind the bench, the Wings have captured the Presidents’ Trophy twice as the league’s regular-season champions.
Babcock’s postseason success is perhaps as equally impressive. The Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup and are the only team to qualify for the playoffs in each of the 10 seasons since the league and the players association agreed on a salary cap following the 2004-05 lockout.
He ranks tied at No. 9 with legendary coach Toe Blake for most postseason coaching wins (82). Under Babcock, the Wings’ 10-season postseason record stands at 67-56. However, in the past nine series since the disappointment of losing Game 7 to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Cup finals, Detroit has finished with a 24-30 playoff mark while winning just three of nine series.