The Babcock Watch

Mike Babcock2

The Mike Babcock potential-free-agent story line will intensify now that the Detroit Red Wings are officially out of the playoffs. Babcock’s contract doesn’t officially expire until June 30th, but with the new rule allowing compensation for coaches in place, I’m inclined to believe the Red Wings and Babcock will sit down and discuss his future very soon.

Two weeks ago most people wouldn’t have given Edmonton much chance of landing Babcock, but I wonder if winning the McDavid lottery and hiring Peter Chiarelli has altered that stance.

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McDavid and Chiarelli won’t cure all the woes of the Oilers instantly. They have many holes to fix, and Babcock is 52 years old.

Does he have the patience to join a rebuilding franchise? I would have said unlikely last week, but after listening to his post-game comments last night, I wonder if he is looking at joining a team with younger franchise players.

“Our team is not as good as it was,” he said after last night’s loss. “We battled our butt off just to get in the playoffs … Three
of our best players (Kronwall, Zetterberg and Datsyuk) are 34, 35 and 37..,” he said.

It is interesting to note that Zetterberg and Datsyuk don’t turn 35 and 37 until October and July, so clearly he was already thinking about next season.

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Babcock is extremely competitive. He is used to winning, and he made an honest assessment about his current team. The Red Wings have managed to stay competitive for two and a half decades, which is amazing considering the only other franchises to make the playoffs five years in a row are Pittsburgh (9) Chicago (7) and the Rangers (5).

Was Babcock being pessimistic about the Wings’ future or simply realistic?

have lots of good, young players, no question about it. And we’ve got some good
ones coming. But who’s going to replace [Datsyuk]? I don’t think
[Datsyuk] is going anywhere right away, but that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve
got to have big time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So
those are questions that our organization works toward, we’ve been drafting
good, we’ve been developing good, but we’ve been winning too much. That’s the
facts,” said Babcock.

Imagine someone in Edmonton or Toronto or Buffalo suggesting there is a negative in winning too much.

He is accurate in saying it is hard to keep developing elite, top-end players late in the first round or subsequent rounds. The Wings won’t find another Datsyuk or Zetterberg in the 6th or 7th round any time soon, but he won’t gather much sympathy from fans or teams around the NHL because the Wings won too much.

Babcock has been in Detroit for ten seasons. He’s won 458 games. His lowest win total in a full season was 39 in 2014. He won 24 games in the shortened lockout season. The Oilers won 24 games in 2015.

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His resume is unmatched by current head coaches. Two Olympic Gold medals, one Stanley Cup, two other Finals appearances and 11 playoff appearances. If he decides not to return to Detroit, which I believe occus, he will be the biggest free agent of the summer, and his decision to test free agency will impact many more coaches than just himself.


Babcock loves coaching. He loves talking with other coaches and he respects the fraternity, but he is acutely aware that by today’s NHL standards many head coaches are underpaid. I sense a part of him feels it is his responsibility to improve coaches salaries across the board, and the best way to do that is to test free agency and see what teams are willing to offer.

The NHL is full of 3rd liners and 3rd pairing defencemen making three, four or even five million dollars.

Are they more valuable than a head coach? I’d argue no.

Coaches salaries aren’t readily available to the public like player’s salaries are at, and often new coaches coming in will negotiate a lower salary than they should, just to get an opportunity to coach.

Even experienced coaches aren’t getting huge dollars. TSN listed the the top-ten coaching salaries at the start of this season as follows:

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The three most recent Cup winners were at the top followed by coaches in major markets, and then Lindy Ruff (8th all-time in coaching wins) and Peter Laviolette (Stanley Cup winner.)

What could Babcock command as a free agent?

I’d say at least $4 million and possible as high as $5 million. His salary won’t count against the cap and owners in Edmonton, Toronto and Philadelphia would gladly pay him between $4-$5 million. San Jose and Buffalo might also want in on the bidding, but they are slightly more payroll conscious.

If Babcock elects not to re-sign in Detroit, then Boston (no GM in place yet to decide fate of Julien), New Jersey (co-coaches in Adam Oates and Scott Stevens) or even St. Louis (Hitchcock’s contract expires June 30th), could get involved.

We have never seen a head coach with Babcock’s credentials hit the open market, and I’d be very interested to see how much money he’d command.

We’ve seen GMs and owners throw caution to the wind and overpay many players, and I’m sure Babcock feels it is time head coaches receive their financial due.

Do the Oilers have a shot?

They have a much better chance today than they did on April 17th. I see them as one of the top three candidates right now.

The opportunity to coach Connor McDavid and the other young stars is appealing, but the bigger carrot is Babcock has worked with Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli in the past.

He knows their personalities and how they go about their business. Babcock has had a say in player personnel in Detroit, and he definitely would want a input with another organization, so his past working relationship with Chiarelli is a positive for the Oilers.

Babcock stated you need strength down the middle and on the blueline. The Oilers don’t have that today,  but their depth chart looks like they could have top-end talent there very soon.

Of the teams potentially interested in Babcock, St.Louis has the best players in those positions today, but I believe the Oilers would rank in the middle amongst the other teams.

If Babcock is up for a challenge, Edmonton and Toronto would be at the top of the list, for slightly different reasons, but Edmonton has better young players.

Chiarelli said he wasn’t going to rush to hire a head coach, but now that the Red Wings are out of the playoffs the coaching talks, interviews and discussions will heighten.

A few weeks ago I thought it was a lock Todd Mclellan ends up in Edmonton, but now I signing Babcock is much closer to being reality than a pipe dream. 


Bob McKenzie said on TSN 1040 in Vancouver today that he thinks Edmonton is at the top of the list for Babcock. Listen here. 

Oilers fans might explode with excitement if their off-season consists of McDavid, Chiarelli and Babcock, which is fine, because Oilers fans have endured a lot of heartache during the past nine years.

3rd Annual Karoake Contest…


Our 3nd annual King/Queen of Karaoke goes on Friday May 22nd at On The Rocks.

If you think you can sing, or know someone who can get them to email a short 30 second-1 minute video audition tape to [email protected] before May 15th. We will pick the top-10 videos, and they along with a few guest celebrity Karaokiers will battle it out on May 22nd.

This year’s winner will win $1,000 in cash. 

Tickets are $35, with all the money going to charity, and with your ticket you receive $45 in GCs. from On The Rocks and Oodle Noodle, as well as one drink when you arrive.

You can buy tickets here.

Recently by Jason Gregor:   

  • smiliegirl15

    Katz being the multi-billionaire that he is, should literally offer whatever he wants. You want your investment to finally win? Take out 0.000010th of your billions and dump it on Babcock

  • Jason Gregor

    I’m trying so hard to resist optimism as it always leads to misery where the Oilers are concerned. This Babcock thing is a bridge too far. I must assume it’s not possible just for my own sanity’s sake.

  • utarded

    If the Oilers acquired a goalie that gives us league average .915. And they rid themselves of at least 2 out of the 3 Nikitin/Ference/Schultz. Plus they are able to acquire 2 x 2nd pairing D. Then they “may” have a shot at playoffs. But if we are competitive all year and just miss the 8th spot it will be a major improvement.

    In terms of coaches in order of preference I’d say Babcock, MacLellan, Nelson, Krueger.

  • Watch Pete make a trade over the next while to show Babcock he means
    Business. Perhaps a Goalie or top D. Babcock is in no rush at all , neither would we be if in his shoes. Give P.C. time and another mover will convince Babcock , we mean business.

  • ATL Oiler

    Hey Gregor – I just wanted let you know I thought it was gutless to ask Taylor Hall if he wants to be traded on your show last week after the PC presser. He took time out of his day and you clearly made him feel uncomfortable in hopes of generating something out of nothing.

    I enjoy your work but fret you will pull that bush league move with McDavid

    My two cents …

    • 3rd Laraque From The Sun

      I’m not a huge Gregor fan, but he did nothing wrong. Taylor Hall, without provocation, brought up the notion that he might not be around. How would you have wanted Gregor to respond? Was he supposed to ignore the comment? No reporter in his or her right mind would leave that comment untouched. In fact, I’d argue that it would be “bush league” to not ask for some sort of clarification.

      • ATL Oiler

        OK fine – I sat on it for a week and glad I may have perceived it incorrectly. We are one Trade request away from losing this momentum and immediately thought of how Pronger took us off the tracks in 2006 after that Hall interview.

        My apologies but glad I brought it up and it was clarified as things are going too well right now and not used to it.

    • toprightcorner

      You obviously didn’t pay attention to the entire interview. Hall originally said there will be big changes on the club and made a comment about if he is moved out Gregor had to follow that up with a question more to clarify what Hall meant knowing the word he used could be misleading and giving him the ability to clarify it.

      When Hall did clarify it he said he knows it is a business but hopes he never gets traded and will never ask to be traded from Edmonton. Gregors question about Halls comment allowed Hall to confirm to all fans that he is committed to the team and doesn’t want to leave. It was in fact great journalism on Gregors part has he knew what Hall was trying to say, it just came out wrong.

      • ATL Oiler

        I apologized but there is no denying the interview was awkward and felt at the time like Gregor was fishing. We don’t need that find of stuff when we are finally starting to turn things around.

      • Rob...

        Props for the explanation. Now contrast that with an a-hole who just ran with Yak’s comment about never playing with good center before, without asking him to clarify. Always nice when you get someone in MSM who cares enough to get the story right, instead of just getting the story.

    • Jason Gregor

      You should go listen to the interview again before you spread false BS. The fact 76 other people propped this shows how quickly stupid, false rumours spread.

      Hall: “There is also the possibility I’m not going to be around, that there is going to be a lot of change, but if I’m back I’m going to be nothing but committed to the Oilers and try to win a Cup.

      Gregor: “Now, Just to clarify you are not suggesting you want to be traded?”

      Hall: “No, (laughs), the only way I would get traded is if they trade me. I would never ask for a trade.”

      Hall had heard many rumblings from people saying Oilers should trade him. He doesn’t want to be traded and allowed him to clarify that, so people wouldn’t misinterpret his comments.

      Here is the interview.

      Go listen to the end and tell me he was uncomfortable. I’m amazed at the BS that gets spread in comment sections.

  • 5 Cups

    I understand if Babcock wants more money, but can we not pretend like the poor coaches are on food stamps? Two million dollars a year is stupid money for someone who really only works 8ish months a year.

  • A-Mc

    I watched an entire season of Behind the B (The bruins version of Oil Change) and one thing you really notice is that the Bruins know who they are. They have a specific identity and they play “Bruins Hockey”. The Oilers are missing that right now and that kind of thing comes from management and coaching. On paper the Oilers have a number of really promising pieces but they havn’t managed to do anything with them because its always been aimless and with out focus.

    With Bob, Peter, and either Todd (either of them) or Mike, We can hopefully start to build an identity. Doing so will result in a better product on the ice with out personnel changes.

    Combine this with the fact that the first half of the season was absolutely brutal. B.R.U.T.A.L. I attribute that much to MacT sitting on his hands and not bringing in a couple NHL centermen to start the season. oh and Eakins, but only to some degree. Chiarelli will not make that mistake. This should allow us, with little to no change, to get to somewhere around 500 hockey (likely just below).

    500 hockey with little to no change in personnel.

    Add in 2 defensemen and 1 goaltender, and i think the Oilers are a decent team. They could be fighting for a playoff spot with as little as 3 players, in the 15-16 season.

    By 16-17 season we’ll have more of our young talent making a permanent residence on the team and this might be enough to round out the Oilers enough to be a playoff team by expectation.

    Do we need half the roster turned over? i dont think so, but i’m just a fan so what do i know.

  • 5 Cups

    Your joking right? We just watched Bob Hartley take a team that was supposed to be where edmonton was during the regular season to the PO. Then he out coached Van City and got them out of round one.

    Coaching matters.

    Lastly: Dallas Eakins – dont have to say much there.

  • YFC Prez

    Since you give one example, I’ll give you one, Patrick Roy. Coach of the year last year, then his team misses the playoffs this year. I’d be willing to bet that the Flames miss the playoffs next year too. They aren’t that good of a team, but a team that has run hot on unsustainable percentages.

    This is why coaches constantly get fired, they attain glory as well as getting fired through pure variance most of the time.

    Again, all these coaches in the NHL are at the top of their field. They are good coaches. However, there is little difference between them as they all teach basically the same systems. There is little innovation. They are irrelevant when compared to their peers.

  • El Pindo

    Hea actually gave two examples, Hartley and Eakins.

    Oilers under Kruger – showed signs of improvement (small sample size)

    Oilers under Eakins – IMMEDIATE regression over a prolonged period

    Oilers under Nelson – began showing signs of improvement with a severely depleted roster (although it was a small sample size again)

    Not saying coaches are the only reason a team does well/poor, but to completely ignore their impact is foolish

  • MGD

    From a purely systems point of view, you may be right; however, I believe it’s the intangibles that set certain coaches apart. Just look at what everyone is saying about Hitchcock. He’s well known as a great systems coach, but people seem to think he’s a poor communicator/motivator.
    Babcock is renowned for getting the most our of his players – he knows which buttons to push to keep his men motivated. THAT, in my opinion, is the difference between a great NHL coach and the rest.

    That’s probably the biggest difference between Nelson and Eakins. Did anyone hear Nelson totally downplay the swarm deffence? The big thing that MacT was saying when he took over was that they were going to play the same systems in OKC as they were in Edmonton… If Eakins and Nelson are playing the same system, why did we see such a change in the players when the coaches changed? One coach clearly a better motivator than the other.

  • 5 Cups

    El Pindo had my back

    Oilers with Eakins
    Oilers with Nelson

    Just so its clear I hate the Flames as any Oiler fan should, but as much as i hate to admit it Hartley is major reason they are about the play the Ducks (go Ducks!).

    Did the flames ride hot goaltending? Yes. Who rode the hot tenders? Hartley.
    Did they get unexpected production from players? Yes. Who gave those guys more ice time? Hartley.

    To say a coach has little to no impact on a team (IMO) isn’t correct.