Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock is slated to be among the most hotly pursued free agents in hockey this summer. Babcock, 51, has opted to go into his lame duck final year without signing an extension and has refused to negotiate with the team in-season.
While it’s difficult to imagine Babcock, a Stanley Cup winner and two-time Olympic gold medalist, leaving a Red Wings team that is loaded with young talent in favour of taking on the task of ironing out the dysfunction on Bay Street, the Maple Leafs will reportedly not name a new full-time head coach until Babcock’s future is settled.
Mike Babcock and his future in Detroit has kind of gone under the radar for a while now, which is probably exactly how (Red Wings general manager) Ken Holland would like it. But this we know: the Edmonton Oilers this week said they’re not going to take the interim tag off of Todd Nelson, even though his record is pretty good. Toronto, of course, also has an interim head coach and we know that job may be open.
I think what’s going to be interesting is that both of those teams, and others, won’t make any decision on a permanent head coach until they know what’s happening with Mike Babcock.
Babcock is a fascinating figure. His Red Wings team had some of the most interesting results from Corey Sznajder’s all-three zone tracking project during the 2013-14 season. While the Red Wings were below average in terms of limiting shots against on controlled entries and dump-ins in comparison with the rate at which they generated shots on such zone entries, Babcock’s Red Wings made up for that by just winning the neutral zone battle. Their raw differential in terms of attempted entires versus attempted entries against was in roughly the same realm as what the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings managed, but with far superior defensive personnel.
This season, once again, the Red Wings are somehow crushing opponents by shot attempt differential despite employing maybe two top-four quality defensemen.
So, yeah, the Maple Leafs probably won’t win the Babcock derby, but if there’s one coach worth delaying your plans for: he’s probably the guy.