These are interesting times for the Detroit Red Wings. They’re coming off a season in which they just made the playoffs after moving to the far inferior Eastern Conference, went 0-for-everyone in free agency and have a mix of wobbly veterans and kids that could well see their run of 23 straight seasons in the playoffs come to an end.
Head coach Mike Babcock, who has one year left on his contract and would be the biggest free agent on the market next summer if he got there, said recently that he won’t negotiate a contract extension during the 2014-15 season.
Adding another layer to the intrigue is the status of GM Ken Holland. Both he and Babcock are inextricably linked. In fact, Babcock has said in the past he wants to wait to see what Holland’s status will be before addressing his own.
Like Babcock, Holland has one year left on his contract with the Red Wings. But there is also an option year on the contract, one which Red Wings senior vice-president Jim Devellano recently told me is essentially Holland’s. There is some dispute about this, since it has been reported it is a team option. But I’ll go with Devellano on this one.
Devellano said he and Holland have been talking about an extension for Holland for some time now, most recently as early as last Sunday night. And while talks have been exploratory, Devellano is confident the Red Wings will get Holland under contract. “One thing is sure,” Devellano said. “We’ll do what’s best for Ken Holland.”
But on a beautiful summer day when the hockey world seems to be on vacation en masse, it does make the mind wander a little. What if Holland and Babcock were to go on the free agent market as a package deal? How many teams do you think would be shuffling their front offices to make room for the most successful GM and coach of their generations?
Holland, who enters his 30th season with the Red Wings, has had opportunities to leave Detroit before and has turned them down. He remains loyal to the organization that hired him as a Western Canada scout in 1985 and that loyalty goes in both directions with owner Mike Illitch.
What the Red Wings ownership has to determine, though, is whether Holland has run his course as GM. There is no questioning his track record with the Red Wings. Over the years, Holland has won under every financial circumstance and has been one of the most innovative and shrewd executives in the league over the past two decades. A place in the builders’ wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame awaits him, regardless of what he does between now and when he decides to retire.
But it’s also about here and now. Holland cannot be faulted for failing to attract free agents to Detroit this summer. But there’s a real feeling in Detroit that the fan base is becoming alienated. Holland, to the ire of many fans, gave contracts to Kyle Quincey and a 35-year-old Dan Cleary, who scored four goals last season. The contract is worth $1.5 million, but increased by a million dollars the moment Cleary steps onto the ice for his 10th game of the 2014-15 season. The Quincey deal is worth $8.5 million over two years. Discuss amongst yourselves.
It’s interesting to note that this will not affect the Red Wings cap situation, which in and of itself is news. The Red Wings are nowhere near the upper limit of the cap, having spent just $60.9 million with most of the best free agents picked. They’re waiting to hear what Daniel Alfredsson’s plans are and must re-sign restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar as well as find replacements for Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson. And that’s about it.
The signings of Quincey and Cleary did not go over well with Red Wing fans and Holland fanned the flames by saying the opinions of his coaches and players when it comes to player personnel are more important than those of the fans. And they should be. If given a choice between what Mike Babcock and Joe Fan think of a player, I’m going to go with Babcock. But it’s not something you actually come out and say.
There is the notion among much of the fan base is that Holland has been dining out on his past success a little too much in Detroit in recent years and that perhaps the time has come for some new thinking in the front office. If that’s indeed the case, then Holland, and probably Babcock, should probably start scouting out neighborhoods in Toronto right now.
But it’s probably not going to happen. The betting here is the Red Wings will keep Holland and Babcock and give them a chance to lead a Motown revival. And they deserve that.