Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question and I kind of feel like an ass writing this two days after his father passed away and the day of his father’s funeral. BUT! I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the “best coach in the NHL” which were further exacerbated by the hilarity that was the game last night. So we’ll dive right in and discuss my thoughts on Mr. Babcock
The biggest thing that comes to mind when you think of the current state of Mike Babcock is the fact that his contract with Detroit is expiring after the season and he’s yet to sign an extension. This is leading to the most enormous and annoying maelstrom of media nonsense I’ve ever been around. As early as last season the Toronto media was already acting like it was a forgone conclusion that Babs will go to Toronto like a victorious Julius Caesar returning to Rome. “He’s coming home!” they’ve shouted. Toronto isn’t his home. “Well, it’s Canada! So it’s home!” Ok then what’s stopping him from going to Ottawa or Edmonton? Toronto thinks they’re the center of the hockey universe. This would be correct only in the sense that it’s an enormous black hole that sucks all life out of everything good and wholesome. But this isn’t an article about where Babcock might end up. This goes a bit further than that.
Honestly, as a Wings fan, I’m tired of this story. I don’t care where he ends up. The Detroit Red Wings won’t plummet to the depths of hockey hell when Mike Babcock leaves. Jeff Blashill is currently killing it in Grand Rapids with the Griffins and has proven with his time there and at Western Michigan that he’s good with young players and getting everything out of them he can. Detroit could promote assistant Tony Granato who had success as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche and as an assistant with the Penguins and the Wings. Then there are lots of other good coaches that are currently not coaching or will be out of a job at the end of the season.
Detroit will be fine with or without Babcock. But how do fans feel about getting him back? Is the desire as strong now as it was at the beginning of the season? After last night’s game, I know Red Wings twitter were a little upset at how he handled the shootout. You’re missing Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg hasn’t been good at the shootout in 8 years so who shoots? Obvious choices are Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Both players have quick, soft hands and slick moves. Both players scored last night. Next up is…..Marek Zidlicky? Sure he’s an offensive guy but more dangerous for his point shot not for his one on one ability. He misses. Next up is…Stephen Weiss. Well alright. The guy who is playing just his second game in what feels like the last 10 games also has his shot stopped. Say what you want to about Mrazek not actually stopping any shots but you have to let him do his thing. You’re top four shooters really include Zidlicky and Weiss? I get his head is somewhere else, as it honestly should be, but this is insane. It’s not the first time Babs has goofed on a shootout lineup. What about Teemu Pulkkinen who has an amazingly hard and accurate slap shot that scores goals on unscreened goalies often. What about Tomas Jurco who has a giant back of stick tricks. The shoot out is a gimmick so why not give the youtube guy a shot at dazzling? I mean, holy hell, what about Justin Abdelkader who has seemed unstoppable on breakaways the last two weeks? Yeah, sure, with Boston and Ottawa charging up the standings looking to unseat you and desperately needing that second point let’s let Zidlicky shoot third in the shootout. I’ve always thought Babcock was poor at personnel management and this is another example of why I think this.
This is just one game. Detroit won five games in March. FIVE! Out of 15. They had this adorable little thing where they won a game and then lost two and did that on repeat the whole month. The best part is they didn’t have any injuries. They just started playing poorly. The goaltending went downhill, the defensive side of the puck got super loose and on most nights the Wings just couldn’t score much at all. They played sloppy hockey, were dominated most of the game in nearly every game they played, and couldn’t hold onto the leads they did have. A lot of that is coaching and having your guys prepared. You push your players to play the best they can. Nobody expects perfect games every night. It’s an 82 game season and it’s long and it’s grinding. But for a month straight of garbage games with garbage performances and seeing the Bruins and Senators going on absurd winning streaks, there should have been some urgency to correct this. If there was, it wasn’t reflected in how the players played. A coach can only do so much, eventually the players have to put it into practice and maybe they tune out Babcock every so often. I don’t know what’s going on behind those doors but whatever it was, it wasn’t working this past month.
You then have the issue that is how he has managed his players this year and it’s left a lot to be desired from me. He has some sort of love for Jonathan Ericsson that I’ll never understand. The guy has been downright awful on most nights with tons of turnovers and terrible decision-making with the puck and without it (when to pinch has been the most glaring issue on this). Why not sit him for a couple of games and play Kindl who has honestly played fairly well in spot starts this year. I know Holland wouldn’t exactly be excited but we have some call ups available and Alexey Marchenko played extremely well during his short stint here before getting injured. He could play, he’s earned it. All of this and I haven’t mentioned Ouellet, yet. Babcock thought Ouellet should have made the team out of camp but Babcock has opted to let Ericsson play. Fine. But why on the first pair while he continually handcuffs Kronwall? There has been no adjustment on the defense as it has continued to spiral out of control the last month of the season. Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar got off to similarly terrible starts. While he moved Tatar up to play with Pavel Datsyuk, Babs threw Jurco down to the fourth line. His scoring chances piled up while playing on a line of grinders who don’t know how to pass. His confidence took a massive hit and while he’s played well, his scoring instinct is all but gone. If Jurco makes a mistake, he gets benched. Weiss had himself a terrible game a few weeks ago. Two turnovers that lead directly to breakaways and goals against. What does Babs do? Puts him on Datsyuk’s line a few shifts later and then benches him the next several games. I’ve stopped trying to understand how he handles his players. It’s just beyond my ability to understand.
The main thing I’d like to see is a little more consistency with Mike Babcock but I’m not sure if it will actually get better with him while he’s here. He’s a great coach. Nobody will ever argue that. Even the greatest coaches move on from great jobs because it’s time to move on or players stop listening. Regardless of what happens with him this summer, the Detroit Red Wings still have a good GM and great ownership. As long as those two things are in place, a good coach will be here. If that’s Babcock, great. If it’s Jeff Blashill, I’m excited to see what he can do with this team.