General manager Ken Holland’s day began at 8 a.m. when Mike Babcock came over for a house visit. Three hours later, their professional relationship was over.
Holland and Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch went as high as five years, but wouldn’t budge on that amount of term. Ultimately it hardly mattered, as they were blown out of the great big lake between here and Toronto when the Maple Leafs showed themselves as the billion dollar franchise they are and secured Babcock’s services with a reported eight-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $50 million. It’s supposedly front loaded, but even at an average of $6.25 million, it means Babcock will make more than double what the next-highest coach in the NHL makes, with Chicago’s Joel Quenneville a touch under $3 million.
“I’ve been in this sport a long time,” Holland said Wednesday. “One of the things that I said to Mike, anytime you’re an unrestricted free agent, in the prime of your career, there’s going to be opportunities that probably will stagger you. I use the word stagger because I’m aware of what the industry pays, but in order sometimes to get people, you’ve got to go above and beyond the industry standards to get what you want.
“Superstar players don’t make that amount of money.”
In an effort to keep Babcock coaching in Detroit, the Wings topped out at near $4 million annually. Because the Maple Leafs signed Babcock prior to the June 30 expiration of his contract, the Wings will be compensated a third-round draft pick once within the next three years, at Toronto’s choosing.
The Leafs’ unprecedented, astronomical offer left Holland doing during an afternoon press conference exactly what he said he might end up doing when he gave Babcock permission to talk to other teams two weeks earlier: Saying thank you and good luck to one coach, and talking up another.
Holland wants Jeff Blashill’s focus right now to be on preparing the Grand Rapids Griffins for round three of the AHL playoffs, but within a week, Holland plans to sit down with Blashill. Holland called Blashill the leading candidate to replace Babcock.
Babcock, 52, leaves the Wings after 10 years. The pinnacle of his tenure came in 2007-2009, which included a Stanley Cup in 2008, but the Wings haven’t advanced out of the second round since 2009.
That was part of why the Wings weren’t going anywhere near the term offered by the Leafs. Nor, for that matter, where they going near the amount of money. All that was left to do was wave goodbye.
“I’d like to thank Mike for 10 fabulous years,” Holland said. “We’ve made the playoffs for 10 consecutive years. Went to the final four three straight years in ’07, ’08 and ’09 and won a Cup in ’08. The last few years, I thought he did a fabulous job in putting some younger players in our organization and developing them.
“Mike decided to go somewhere else. I’m not going to fold the franchise.”
Holland last spoke to Babcock around 11:15 Wednesday morning, when Babcock informed Holland the Wings were out of the running. Holland immediately called captain Henrik Zetterberg and told him the news. Next was a call to Pavel Datsyuk. Niklas Kronwall turned out to be on an airplane.
Holland, of course, also informed Ilitch, who had much the same reaction as Holland – this event was a possibility when the Wings granted Babcock the right to look around.
“I’m happy for Mike,” Holland said. “I loved working with Mike. What’s made it easy for me is, it was Mike’s decision.
“I’ve got mixed emotions because he’s one of the greatest coaches in the league if not the greatest coach, but at the same time, as we went through the process, I think Mike understood that when you’ve coached in the same city for 10 years, my offers were a four-year term. Yesterday I said the best we can do is five years. When you’ve been in the same city as long as I have and as long as I have, you don’t get much longer term than four or five years.”
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, in many ways, just looks like an NHL coach. (He sounds like one, too.). Here’s a look at the stiff-jawed bench boss of Hockeytown.
While they no longer share an employer, the friendship continues. Holland said Babcock will be in attendance later this summer at Holland’s daughter’s wedding.
Babcock did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
It is hardly a surprise to see the Leafs land him. President Brendan Shanahan had to deliver Babcock, who after two Olympic gold medals as coach of Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 is viewed as something of a deity across Canada. The Maple Leafs have made the playoffs once in the past 10 years, and lost in the first round. They appear direction-less, and for the foreseeable future, winless. That Babcock, a man who likes to say he is “about winning” wants to be involved with such a team speaks to an ego that believes he can be the guy who turns everything around.
The Wings will at least get front row seats to the show, as Detroit and Toronto share the Atlantic Division.
“I know it was a difficult decision for him,” Holland said. “He’s been here for 10 years, his family has got roots here. But at the end of the day, he made a decision that he felt was best for him. Now I’ve got some decisions to make, and our goal is to beat Mike.”
Contact Helene St. James: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.