By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 9) — A well–known executive in the National Hockey League believes the Mike Babcock era in Detroit has come to an end.
“I think he’s gone,” the exec told me late on Friday. “And, it could easily happen before the window of opportunity [to negotiate with other NHL teams] closes later this month. If it does, Detroit will get a third–round draft pick as compensation and, from what I’m hearing, probably elevate Jeff Blashill as Mike’s replacement. Stay tuned.”
Bob McKenzie of TSN reported on Friday afternoon that the Red Wings have granted Babcock permission to talk with rival clubs before his contract expires at the end of June. It is apparently a three–week window, after which Detroit would retain exclusive negotiating rights. But, there is rising expectation that Babcock will land elsewhere in the interim. “He wants to explore the market,” said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. “I feel this is the way to treat Mike; with the respect he has earned. I’d like to know what is happening in the next couple of weeks.”
TIME WILL TELL — AND LIKELY SOON — WHETHER MIKE BABCOCK (RIGHT) WILL REMAIN WITH GENERAL MANAGER KEN HOLLAND AND CAPTAIN HENRIK ZETTERBERG IN DETROIT.
Babcock, however, is hardly ruling out a return to MoTown.
“People can read it into [the negotiating window] what they want,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “There is no decision made at all. We really like it here. My family loves Detroit. It’s way easier for my family to stay here… 100 percent easier. My kids are all going away, but they still want to come back to Detroit on Thanksgiving. They want to come back to Detroit in the summer to work out. So it’s way easier for them.”
But, Holland needs to cover his tracks as GM. “I want Mike here if he wants to be here,” Holland told the Free Press. “That’s always been my attitude with players and with personnel. If there is a better opportunity for you elsewhere, then you should probably pursue it.”
The Red Wings, accordingly, may be prepared to move forward with Blashill — coach of their American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich. Blashill’s team rebounded from a 2–0 series deficit to defeat the Toronto Marlies in a best–of–five playoff opener. The Griffins now lead the Rockford Ice Dogs 2–0 in the second round of the Calder Cup tournament. “The Red Wings trust their development system,” said my source. “If [Babcock] leaves, I look for them to promote from within.”
And, as mentioned, a compensation clause would net Detroit a third–round choice sometime in the next three NHL drafts should Babcock sign elsewhere during the negotiating window. A bevy of teams will step forward to try and make him the NHL’s highest–paid coach of all time.
Toronto, Buffalo, San Jose and Philadelphia have vacancies with Edmonton, New Jersey, St. Louis and Boston potentially to follow. I’ve been told to keep an eye on Pittsburgh as a landing spot, though the Penguins — again, a playoff disappointment — have yet to make a move with current coach Mike Johnston. Edmonton and Buffalo could be of particular interest to Babcock. The Oilers won the right to draft Connor McDavid and are under the domain of Bob Nicholson, with whom Babcock has a close alliance after a pair of Winter Olympic gold medals on behalf of Hockey Canada. The Sabres will build their program around the No. 2 draft pick next month: Boston University phenom Jack Eichel.
Toronto is also looking for a general manager. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment could entice Babcock with a boat–load of money and substantial jurisdiction in hockey–related matters. If the Leafs — building from bottom — are interested in Babcock only as coach, it’ll require a considerable sales pitch from president Brendan Shanahan.
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