By Mark Wilson
May 8, 2015

Literally. World tour. Begins.

Mike Babcock is heading to the World Championships of Hockey and what he’s doing amounts to a “world tour.”

Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland has given his permission and blessing for Babs to speak to other NHL clubs about a coaching position. The window is open until the “end of May.”

Well, that’s not very long now, is it?

For basically the next three weeks, Babcock can seek employment elsewhere. He can test the waters; put his feet in and gauge the temperature.

At this time of year, waters in the Great Lakes region are still pretty cold.

Babcock will heat those waters up immediately.

He is considered among the three best hockey coaches in the game today.

Ask anyone and they’ll probably go with Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings and Babcock.

“Q” and Sutter have won multiple Stanley Cups in the time that Babs has failed to get the Wings back to the conference finals. He continues to live off the 2008 Cup he nabbed.

Sure, he got back to the finals in 2009; losing to the same Pittsburgh Penguins squad he defeated in ’08. But since then, even making it out of the FIRST ROUND of the playoffs has been difficult.

SIX teams currently have vacancies.

New Jersey, Buffalo, San Jose, Edmonton, Toronto and Philadelphia are sans coach.

Handicapping the “Race to Babcock” shouldn’t be that difficult.


He just doesn’t seem like a Philly kinda guy. The Flyers have some veterans mixed in with youth. I don’t know if that unit is ready to really compete against the big boys in the eastern conference.

Would Babcock want to be THAT insignificant the next four or five seasons? I think not.


Babs COULD be a Buffalo kinda guy.

The problem is the Sabres seem mired in a funk and outside of quick spurts over their 40-plus years of NHL existence, they are usually non factors.


Sheesh, speaking of NON FACTORS! How many more number one draft picks are the Oilers going to have only to find themselves out of the playoffs again?

Maybe Babcock is the difference-maker Edmonton has been seeking.

It’s also fairly close to his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

325 miles separates the two; a straight shot on the Canadian route 16 into Alberta. Of course, try that drive in the middle of winter and 325 miles feels more like 3,025 miles.

Or kilometers or whatever it is they use up there.

Babcock is 52 years. Hard to truly judge if returning close to his roots is appealing to him. He doesn’t tip his hand in that direction.

New Jersey?


Again, there’s an east coast thing happening here and I reiterate… he doesn’t seem to have that in him.

He would also be coaching the organization that knocked off his Anaheim Ducks 12 years ago in the Cup Finals.

I shrug to think that matters but you never know.

There are some positives with the Devils.

Working with now-president Lou Lamoriello and recently hired GM Ray Shero would, in effect, put together an NHL “Dream Team.” Babcock could really excel under that dome.

Jersey has three Cups in its history, a great hockey facility and incredible fan base.

But… Babcock in… Newark?

I don’t know. I ain’t feelin it.

San Jose?

Ah yes, the left coast.

Well, he already spent time down the I-5 in Anaheim. California appeals to Babs. Even though San Jose couldn’t be further from Disneyland in attitude, it’s still California.

Albeit Northern California.

The Sharks have been chronic underachievers.

For all the talent that franchise has had since inception back in the early 90’s, they have ZERO to show for it.

Not ONE trip to the Cup Finals in all those years.

They’ve been to the Western Conference finals three times only to lose each time.

San Jose’s aging veterans aren’t getting any younger and because they usually draft down the list, they haven’t picked up a plethora of young studs.

Also, there’s the matter of Todd McLellan.

Would Babcock want to replace a former assistant of his?

McLellan worked for Babs from the moment he was hired in Detroit.

2005 until he left for the Sharks, Mac was side by side with Mike.

For some reason, I think Babcock is one of those dudes who simply would not want to replace an ex-aide.

I could be wrong; wouldn’t be the first time. San Jose might make a heavy run at Babcock.

McLellan, by the way, has already interviewed with Edmonton and, like his former mentor, is also a Saskatchewan native.

That leaves… Toronto.

Well, that’s unless some other surprise team wants to make a run during the Babcock World Tour.

But, the Leafs.

Ohhhhhh….. the freakin’ Maple Leafs.

Maple Loafs.


How can one of the NHL’s vaunted original six bastions of a golden age be this terrible?

The last time Toronto WON or even PLAYED for that Lord Stanley thing was 1967.


Almost 50 YEARS have passed since the Leafs tasted Cup nectar.

Hockey’s damn HALL OF FAME is in that city.

Yet, year after year, season after season, the Leafs stumble, bumble and grumble their way through the quagmire of NHL slime.

22 coaches have come and gone since Punch Imlach took the Leafs to the Promised Land in 1967.

I mean, for goodness sakes, JIM PAPPIN was Toronto’s leading playoff scorer that season.

You would think Babcock would RUN and not walk away from that gig.

Ahhhh, but there is a hook.

Brendan Shanahan.

When Babcock arrived in Motown, Shanny was in his final season as a Red Wing. He had arguably, his best year as a Wing in nearly a decade.

At age 36, Shanahan scored 40 goals and had 81 points after struggling the previous two seasons under Dave Lewis.

Shanny was rejuvenated under Babs.

It bought him three more years of playing time in the league with the New York Rangers and finally a return to Jersey.

When Shanahan departed as a free agent for New York in 2006, he made no claims that Babcock was a reason. He kept saying he enjoyed his time in Detroit but it was just a feeling he had about moving on.

Now as president and alt governor of the Leafs, Shanny can hire who he wants. Yes, there are other cooks in that stale Toronto kitchen but word is that Shanahan will have the ultimate say in a coach.

Babcock and Toronto.

I’ll say this— if Babs can get the Leafs to a Cup Final? He’ll be a stone cold genius and legend in Ontario.

Imlach, Hap Day, Mike Babcock.

The Mount Rushmore of Maple Leafs coaches.

He might dig that.

Plus, Shanny NEEDS to make a splash.

The locals are more than restless in Toronto and dying for a hockey winner especially since Montreal has risen, fall, risen and fallen so many times while the Leafs are just… fallen.

And they can’t get up!

It’s not that they’ve been that awful in regular season play over the past two decades, the Leafs just can NOT find the magic to make it happen when Cup time rolls around.

Four of the past six fulltime Toronto coaches have winning regular season records. Pat Quinn, 1998-2006, is the franchise career leader with 300 victories.

Quinn, like Paul Maurice, Randy Carlyle and Pat Burns failed as did the other 18 who tried since Imlach won that title in ’67.

Babcock would be a GOD in Toronto if he could break that streak.

Someone is going to coach ‘em, why not Babs?

That leaves us with one more option.

Returning to Detroit.

Only 26 men have coached the Red Wings/Cougars/Falcons since Detroit joined the hockey party in 1926.

Jack Adams had the reigns for 20 years.

Sid Abel and Babcock are the only other TWO to last a decade or longer. Scotty Bowman narrowly missed with nine years at the helm.

Babs is already the all-time winningest coach in Red Wings history with 458; he passed Scotty last year.

Outside of grabbing a second Cup, there isn’t much more for Babcock to do here. It would just be repetitive and familiar.

“There is no better job,” Babs has said.

He made it clear after the first round playoff loss to Tampa Bay that any time he has “moved on” it was for a better situation.

Detroit is still the jewel of the NHL when it comes to all things considered.

In a couple of seasons, a new arena will adorn the city landscape. District Detroit is finally underway and sometime around 2018, the venue will open. THAT is something that might appeal to Babcock.

Signing a three or five year extension would keep Babs in the catbird seat.

Even a five year deal would still have him as a young man of 57 when the contract was done should he survive all five.

The question Babs is asking himself is, how close are the Wings to getting off the schneid and becoming TRUE contenders for the Stanley Cup again.

Great question.

Captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are showing their age. Nik Kronwall is packing in the service time. Johan Franzen is barely able to skate anymore. Lord only knows what’s happening with goalie Jimmy Howard.

Youth will be served on this Wings’ club.

Petr Mrazek is an up and coming goaltender who may have supplanted Howard as the number one.

Gustav Nyquist didn’t have a great 2015 playoff but is still the franchise scoring future along with Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Landon Ferraro.

Danny Dekeyser and Alexei Marchenko are the future on defense.

Despite what I just typed about Zetterberg and Datsyuk, this is not the “old days” of “old guys.”

Trade deadline pickup Marek Zidlicky is the grandfather of the group at age 38. He’s the only one near 40.

TEN players on the roster right now are 26 or younger.

In theory, the Wings are a free agent or two away from being even better and extending the pro-sports leading 24 years of consecutive playoff participation.

Babcock knows it.

He’s got Holland in his corner and senior VP Jimmy Devellano remains a huge Babs fan.

Ditto owner Mike Ilitch.

There is nowhere Babcock can go for more long term support.


Wings’ fans have given him a break as well.

Six seasons have gone by since the Wings lost that Cup Final series to the Penguins. In that time they haven’t sniffed the conference finals again. Three of the last four years have failed miserably in round one.


Coaches have been canned for that bit of business.

At no time has Holland indicated he even remotely considered relieving Babcock of his duties. There is such high regard for Mike that, short of committing a crime, he is wanted back here in every way.

It is kinda weird since we are all of the mind that the next Wings’ coach is hanging out in Grand Rapids.

Jeff Blashill was paid big coin to coach the Griffins.

Minor leagues are all well and good but Blashill isn’t biding his hours in the G-Rap to set records in the American Hockey League.

At 41, he has the youth and patience needed to wait in the, pardon the pun, “wings.”

Blashill won’t wait forever.

He wants to be an NHL head coach.

After one season coaching Western Michigan University, a season on Babcock’s bench in Detroit and now in Grand Rapids, Blashill feels like he has paid enough dues to grab one of those red hot coaching vacancies.

If not THIS go round then certainly next.

Holland has to make that a strong consideration.

Would Blashill’s new voice help kick start this static situation?

Very likely.

That would be to say that Babcock’s voice has grown cumbersome and old.

Chuck Daly, rest his soul, said as much when he left the Pistons in 1992.

“I could tell they were tired of hearing me talk,” said Chuck at the end of the Bad Boys run.

Jud Heathcote indicated the same to me in 1995 when he felt it time to retire rather than to continue to try and motivate kids with 1970’s philosophies.

Nobody at Michigan State is regretting the promotion of a younger Tom Izzo.

For Blashill, it would be a promotion.

No interviewing needed. Holland knows exactly what he has in the former Ferris State goalie.

There are a lot of widgets to this process.

By the time the calendar flips to June we should know what’s up.

Either Babcock is back and no longer a lame duck coach or… he’s off to other pastures. Doubtful if those pastures will be greener.

In any event, Babs will dine on some fine steaks and good wine. He’ll hear pitches from various teams. He will be courted like no NHL coach has been in ages. In the end, he’ll see if roads lead back to the Motor City.