Mike Babcock (Getty Images)
Mike Babcock will be the hottest unrestricted free agent on the market if he doesn't re-sign with the Detroit Red Wings before next summer. And whether or not he stays in Detroit, he will definitely set a new benchmark for coaching salaries.
Well played, Mr. Babcock. Well played.
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, the undisputed prize catch among potential unrestricted free agents after this season, came into the Center of the Hockey Universe™ and managed to get out of the morning skate without addressing his future. That he did so in a hockey market that many speculate would be a prime destination for him if he decides to leave the Wings made it all that more impressive.
Babcock and the Red Wings have vowed to not make his contract situation a distraction and he did a good job of it, helped along by a broadcast media scrum that, for reasons only known to them, did not even broach the subject. Babcock only spoke of his personal situation when pulled aside after the cameras were turned off.
“My situation is great,” Babcock said. “I’m in love with my wife and I have three great kids at home and I coach the Red Wings. I’m from Saskatoon and I love my life. See you guys.”
With that he departed down the hallway to the Red Wings bus, but as long as he remains unsigned, the question will continue to be asked. It would be absurd to suggest there have not been talks between the team and Babcock about a new deal. After all, he and Red Wings GM Ken Holland speak every day. (On a related note, Holland and new Toronto Maple Leafs president and former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan spent much of the Red Wings morning skate chatting in the stands of the Air Canada Centre.)
This much we do know. A source with knowledge of the situation with Babcock told thn.com that Babcock has received at least one firm contract offer to stay with the Red Wings and has turned it down. Babcock has been offered what the source described as a lucrative financial offer to stay in Detroit. It’s impossible to say whether or not the offer would be more or less than he’d receive anywhere else, but it has long been speculated that Babcock would like to establish a new benchmark for NHL coaching salaries.
It’s believed Joel Quenneville, at $2 million a season, is the highest-paid coach in the league. Babcock will easily usurp that amount whether he stays with the Red Wings or goes elsewhere to coach. But the question is, will he be able to get NHL coaches in the same tax bracket of about $5 million a year? We may find out only if Babcock hits the open market and the bidders for his services keep increasing their offers.
Another variable in all of this is whether or not Babcock wants more power than a traditional coach might have into player personnel decisions, the way Patrick Roy has with the Colorado Avalanche.
Whatever the case, the story of Babcock’s future will continue to grow the longer the season goes and there is no deal done.