Report: Red Wings grant Mike Babcock permission to talk to rival NHL teams

Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY Sports

Mike Babcock is still technically the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, and there’s still a chance he’ll be back in Mo-town next season, but for now he’s reportedly allowed to touch base with the rest of the league.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the Red Wings have granted Babcock permission to talk to other NHL clubs – including the Maple Leafs presumably – about their respective head coaching jobs. With all of the Edmonton Oilers, the Buffalo Sabres, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Leafs believed to be interested, it’s safe to say that Babcock’s phone is blowing up at the moment.

In discussing the situation on Friday, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told reporters that he believes Babcock will come attached to a third-round pick as compensation if he leaves the Red Wings organization, and indicated that interested teams had to sign a compensation letter in order to chat with Babcock. 

This saga has been unfolding for nearly 12 months, and at an absolute snails pace. We’re finally in the time frame though where things should begin to accelerate, as Ken Holland told the media at a recent playoff game between the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Toronto Marlies.

“If it doesn’t happen in May, if we don’t retain Mike, then I’m in a position of weakness,” Holland said at the time. “So I’m hoping in May, we have a solution.”

Babcock is a Stanley Cup wining head coach, a two-time gold medalist, and has amassed a .627 points percentage in his 12 year NHL coaching career – good for the fourth best among active head coaches. Perhaps most interestingly for the stats conscious Maple Leafs are what Babcock has done in terms of the underlying numbers. 

During Babcock’s tenure the Red Wings have been a persistent puck possession juggernaut, and have continued to control games ably even after losing some pretty important (even generational) contributors like Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. One of the most interesting things that Corey Sznajder’s ‘All-Three Zones’ project revealed, for example, was that the Red Wings were one of the few teams in hockey that was just outright destroying their opponents in the neutral zone. 

Where the 2013-14 Red Wings were actually inefficient in terms of generating shots off of controlled entries or dump ins, they compensated for that and even managed to generate a massively positive shot differential by winning the neutral zone by a huge margin. Among the teams that Sznajder tracked, only the Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks had as large a differential of zone-entries attempted to ones attempted against. 

The Maple Leafs are probably a long shot for Babcock – he’ll have his pick of the litter, and as Kyle Dubas reiterated again and again this week, the Leafs are a long way away from contending in any credible way. If the club has any advantages in this sweepstakes though, it could be their management team’s progressive outlook, the city of Toronto itself, and Roger and Bell’s deep, deep war chest. 

And of course it would appear that money is a pretty big factor shaping this particular negotiation, which makes it like every other negotiation in the history of the world:

It was reported (and denied by Babcock) that the highly regarded head coach turned down a 5-year, $15 million contract extension offer from the Red Wings this past winter. Surely the Maple Leafs will be prepared to beat that (possibly mythical) offer. They’ll probably have to be. 

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    • Jeremy Ian

      Good point. That was $$$ flushed away, along with all the horrid contracts Carlyle plumbed for.

      But this is such a long shot. So many things need fixing in the team’s infrastructure, the rebuild is going to take years. I like the way it is starting, but Babcock would have to be a very patient man.

      Yet, I do hope it happens. It would take one major variable off the table, and we could not blame the coaching.