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Let's clear this up once and for all: Mike Babcock will coach the Detroit Red Wings in 2014-15, no matter how much other teams might want him, no matter what the media dream up. He has a year left on his contract. The Wings want him back. He doesn't want to leave.
"A hundred percent," Babcock told Yahoo Sports.
Babcock said even if the Wings fired him now, he would not look for another job until after next season. The youngest of his three children will be a senior in high school in the Detroit area. He will not uproot his daughter, and he will not coach elsewhere during that time.
"I ain't missing it," Babcock said.
There are no guarantees beyond that – not for the Wings, but not for other teams, either. General manager Ken Holland plans to discuss an extension with Babcock at some point this summer. Babcock is in no rush one way or the other.
"I have a contract for a year; Ken Holland has a contract for a year," Babcock said. "I assume the sequence of events are, they deal with Ken Holland first, and then they deal with Mike Babcock. But I'm real comfortable, and I mean that, and I've said it. I'm on record. I'm comfortable in my situation. It's not like I need someone to do anything right now. I’m fine because I think our team’s going in the right direction again.”
Is Babcock open to an extension?
“I’m open to anything,” Babcock said.
Babcock has said much of this before. But it bears repeating as rumor and speculation swirl about his future, and it is interesting to note he thinks the Wings are headed “in the right direction again” and he’s “open to anything.”
After the Wings were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, Babcock was asked if he would discuss an extension. Ears perked up when he told reporters: “I doubt it.”
The rumor and speculation have picked up since – especially because the Toronto Maple Leafs chose not to fire coach Randy Carlyle and the Pittsburgh Penguins chose not to fire coach Dan Bylsma (at least not yet). Are both teams interested in Babcock?
Who wouldn’t want Babcock? He is one of the best coaches in the NHL, if not the best. He has won the Stanley Cup and lost Game 7 of the Cup final twice. He just won his second Olympic gold medal with Team Canada and was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the NHL’s coach of the year.
All of this puts Babcock in an excellent position. Unless Wings owner Mike Ilitch makes him an offer he can’t refuse – a distinct possibility, considering how aggressive Ilitch has been historically – Babcock can play out the final year of his contract and then assess his options. He can become the hottest coaching commodity the NHL has seen in recent memory.
Babcock will make gobs of money no matter where he coaches. If John Tortorella could command a five-year, $10 million contract from the Vancouver Canucks last year after being fired by the New York Rangers – only to be fired again this year – Babcock will be just fine, financially speaking. He can base his decision on whether he wants a new challenge or thinks there is a better chance to win the Cup elsewhere.
Before he signed his current four-year contract with the Wings, Babcock called Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz, then the longest-tenured coaches in the NHL, to ask what it was like to coach in one place for a long time. He also called Dave Tippett, who had gone from the Dallas Stars to the Phoenix Coyotes, to ask if it was better to go somewhere new and start fresh.
Babcock is now the longest-tenured coach in the NHL himself, going on his 10th season in Detroit, and the Wings have struggled to make the playoffs the past two seasons. He is a Jack Adams finalist because the Wings extended their streak to 23 seasons despite injuries, most notably to stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. They won with kids and call-ups.
A year from now, Babcock’s daughter will have graduated from high school. If he hasn’t signed an extension, his contract will be up. He will be free to do what he wants. Part of Scotty Bowman’s genius was choosing the right jobs. That’s a big reason why he has won nine Cups as a coach and four more as an executive.
The Wings will be prepared if Babcock leaves. They are grooming Jeff Blashill – a former Babcock assistant, who shares some of his traits and even sounds like him – in the minors and won’t allow him to talk to other teams about NHL jobs. He won the Calder Cup last season and the American Hockey League’s outstanding coach award this season.
But we’ll see. We’ll see what happens this summer. If Babcock doesn’t sign an extension, we’ll see what happens next season – how the Wings look, what other jobs open up, how Babcock feels and what his options are then.
And Babcock might not need to go elsewhere for a new challenge because of the way the Wings’ roster has turned over.
“The big thing for me is, it’s the newest team I’ve ever had probably in five years to coach,” Babcock said. “That part doesn’t play into it anymore. For a while there I was wondering about that, but now that I’ve got all kids, I don’t even think about that. … We’ve changed the whole team.”
Babcock is unhappy to be out of the playoffs. He is especially unhappy the Wings were such an easy out against the Bruins, losing in five games. He remains fully invested in the Wings, however – engaged, involved and optimistic. He has been on the road scouting Anthony Mantha, the Wings’ stellar junior prospect, and he continues to work together with Holland.
The other night, Babcock was at the Memorial Cup while Holland was watching the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL playoffs. They were texting back and forth. They talked again in the morning. Babcock talked to his trainers and assistants, too.
“You’re in,” Babcock said. “That’s what you do, right? That’s your job. … I’m not worrying about it. I’m going about my summer, going about my job, like I have every year.”
Sometimes Babcock has fun with the rumor and speculation. There has been a persistent whisper that he will take over for legendary coach Red Berenson at the University of Michigan. He has joked to reporters that if the Wings don’t want him next season, he’ll be Berenson’s assistant so he can stay close to his daughter.
“That’s just me entertaining myself,” Babcock said. “I don’t know who started those rumors, and now I keep them going. There’s nothing to it – zero to it.”
Things are starting to get ridiculous now, though. Babcock’s name keeps coming up in connection to other jobs; reporters keep calling him about it. People aren’t going to stop talking unless he signs an extension.
“It’s not the contract situation that would be bother me at all,” Babcock said. “It would be answering questions about it.”
Is he ready to deal with that for the next year?
“I never even thought about it,” Babcock said. “I thought this would be a one-day thing and done, and it’s had a life of its own. So obviously that’s a pain. But I just …”
“Whatever,” he said. “I like it here. I’ve got no issues with being here. Ken Holland’s a good man. I like working for the Ilitches. That’s it.”