The Red Wings pedigree for coaches and front office personnel has been strong. Nothing speaks to that more than the former Red Wings assistants that were given positions as head coaches on other teams. Todd McLellan spent time on the Red Wings bench before becoming the head coach of the San Jose Sharks. Mustache aficionado Paul Maclean was a Detroit assistant as well before winning the Jack Adams Trophy with the Ottawa Senators. Steve Yzerman is the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, having learned his craft as Vice President of Operations in Motown, and the Dallas Stars have recently been turned around by former Red Wings Assistant GM Jill Nill. This is a trend that, unfortunately for the Red Wings, continues.
In addition to free agency woes, the Carolina Hurricanes hired Red Wings assistant Bill Peters to be their head coach. While I’m sure that everyone is happy for Peters and this massive promotion, as am I, this does mean Ken Holland has some work to do as far as finding another assistant coach. This situation has become even more complicated, as Assistant Coach Tom Renney was reported to have been considered by the Florida Panthers for their head coaching vacancy, and may be leaving soon to take on the responsibilities of Hockey Canada’s president (Lousy Canadians taking Red Wings assistants!).
This is going to make the coming season with Mike Babcock’s staff a lot different with two new assistant coaches. It was reported that Nicklas Lidstrom turned down an offer to become an assistant, one would assume he’s quite happy in Sweden getting to spend time around his family year-round for once. Chris Chelios did the same a few years ago, one would assume that’s because he’s still trying to play with his sons in Europe. They’re going to search far and wide to find some more support for Mike Babcock. Which brings us to Mike Babcock…
The two-time olympic gold medalist has raised lots of questions this off-season, given his response to questions about an extension. As much as we try to write off some of the comments as a negotiating tactic, Babcock apparently isn’t worried about the fact that this is the last year of his contract, and even mentioned being an assistant at the University of Michigan if he isn’t extended. This is quite concerning if you’re a Red Wings fan, and I think there’s a similar concern to potential free agents. If you’re say, Matt Niskanen, do you sign a seven-year deal in Detroit, knowing you have Babcock for a year and maybe have him afterwards (but who really knows)? Or do you go elsewhere and have a little more stability? I don’t think this was a deciding factor for players staying away from Detroit during free agency, but I’m sure it was a factor. Sure, NHL coaches get changed out about as often as my bedsheets do (about once every three or four years, that’s normal right?) and there isn’t much job security there. A free agent might almost expect to play for two coaches over the course of a seven-year deal, but the added instability of the Babcock situation may have served as an additional reason for free agents to look away from the Motor City.
Babcock has pointed out that Ken Holland is in the last year of his deal as well. It would be awfully silly to extend the coach before the General Manager. Babcock certainly has benefitted from holding out a bit. Between surpassing Jack Adams for most Red Wings’ wins, to being a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy, Babcock is certainly negotiating from a position of strength. The more the Red Wings decide they need him, the better deal he’ll probably land from Mike Illitch and Ken Holland (or whomever happens to be in charge at the time). This has lead to plenty of rumors for Babcock’s future destination, including the Penguins and the Maple Leafs (because people don’t understand what “one year left on a contract” means, apparently). Still, as a fan, despite all the reassurances you can’t help but be a little nervous.
The search is on to find more assistants for Babcock for the coming season. One name that gets batted around a lot is Dan Bylsma. Tom had a great write up about this possibility, and like just like Tom, I don’t think it’s too realistic. The idea of Bylsma going from head coach to assistant coach seems far-fetched, although it has happened in the past. I dont’ see the fact that Bylsma is a Michigan native swaying him to take what is essentially a demotion when he’s still getting paid. What seems more realistic is that Bylsma sits at home and continue to collect his pay check as his contract with the Penguins requires, hang out with his family that he spends so much time away from when working as a head coach, and maybe even take up an easy broadcasting gig like so many coaches have done in the past. (John Tortorella and Doug Maclean come to mind).
One name that has been thrown around that might be more realistic is Tony Granato, former assistant to the Avalanche and more recently the Penguins. He was hired for them in 2009, and we all known how the Penguins did that year. Of the many concerns the Red Wings would have this offseason, improving the power play would be one of them (Even Ottawa was better!) and Granato could certainly be a step in the right direction there. Only issue is there’s plenty other teams looking at him, including the Maple Leafs.
One thing remains certain. This isn’t a great time to be the Red Wings’ GM.