TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The most intriguing off-ice story of this season will be Mike Babcock’s future with the Detroit Red Wings. Until Babcock re-signs with the Detroit, the questions will continue to follow this team.
And here’s one to ponder: If John Tortorella is worth $2 million a year sitting in his barcalounger, what is the man many consider to be the best coach in the NHL worth? Will Babcock be the first to break the bank and be paid like his NFL counterparts?
The first assumption is that money will not be an object, that the Red Wings will give Babcock all the money and all the term he wants and that if Babcock leaves, it will be for a better situation. There is no salary cap on what coaches can be paid, so that begs the question, why would a superstar coach such as Babcock not make $5 million a year? Joel Quenneville, who has won two Stanley Cups in the past four years, is believed to be the highest-paid coach in the NHL at about $2.5 million, which is ridiculously low because it’s less than the average player salary.
Babcock will almost certainly become the game’s highest paid coach, whether it’s with Detroit or someone else, but Red Wings GM Ken Holland doesn’t seem to be eager to be the one to set a precedent.
“That’s not the way I negotiate,” Holland said. “I use the word fair, but fair is different for lots of people. Otherwise you’d have coaches making $20 million. This is a business and I’m in charge of making business decisions and we all have responsibilities. That’s how the business runs. In the industry, when you’re charged with the responsibility of managing an operation, you try to make sure everyone is treated fair in the industry, fair in the organization.”
Holland said he and Babcock have actually not had much time to talk about a contract extension. When they discussed one in earnest in June, Babcock didn’t feel comfortable discussing an extension until the Red Wings determined the future of Holland, something that was resolved with Holland signed a four-year extension a month ago. Like Babcock, if he becomes a free agent, Holland has had the opportunity to go elsewhere in the past and has remained faithful to the Red Wings. Babcock has been working with Holland for a decade and the two have a good working relationship. But there has not been constant communication between the two.
“We’ve had some conversations, but they didn’t go into a lot of depth because I was going into my last year of my contract,” Holland said. “And I’m happy. But that’s me.”
There are times when I’m convinced that Holland and Babcock are giggling to themselves behind the scenes and having fun watching people speculate about the situation and there are times when it doesn’t look like a slam-dunk, that perhaps Babcock is itching for another challenge with another team. These situations present themselves to coaches even less frequently than they do for players and Babcock is truly in a unique situation. He has already insisted he will not let this linger into the season and if nothing is done by the start of the season, he will wait until after the season to decide his future. He also insists it will not be a distraction for himself or the team. Good luck with that one. Every time the Red Wings visit a major hockey market, the questions will be asked. And the longer Babcock goes through the season without a deal, the more his future could become a factor in dressing room dynamics.
I assumed money would be no object for Babcock and the Red Wings would give him whatever money and term he wanted. That is clearly not the case. But Holland is convinced Babcock knows exactly what he’s getting with the Red Wings. That’s why it seems there will not be some enormous sell job on the part of the Red Wings to prove to him that his best situation will be in Detroit.
“He knows the Red Wing organization as well as I do,” Holland said. “He knows our prospects, he knows our future. He knows our team, he knows the city. He knows we’re building a brand new rink that we’re going to be in in 2017. When the question comes, ‘What do you have to show him?’ I don’t think we have to show him anything. He’s seen it all. I don’t know what there is to show that he hasn’t seen.”