As the continuing saga of Mike Babcock picks up further traction, the list of potential suitors for his esteemed services has been whittled down substantially. Barring major surprises, two serious contenders exist. While the Detroit Red Wings obviously remain very much in contention for his services, the Buffalo Sabres are reported to be offering as much as $6 million a season.
However, as teams such as the Edmonton Oilers have found alternative options and the competition has narrowed, the St. Louis Blues have emerged as a strong dark horse candidate. Although Head Coach Ken Hitchcock is still in control of his position, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca has described the team’s silence on his status as “deafening.”
Considering that Babcock is notoriously intense and competitive, him taking the money in Buffalo would appear to be an uncharacteristic and purely financial decision. Meanwhile, the Red Wings are aging and losing their step, making them a more challenging and less interesting team for Babcock to direct from behind the bench.
This leaves the Blues. Their fleet of talented forwards, both present (Vladimir Tarasenko) and future (Ivan Barbashev), and skilled defensemen will allow the coach to immediately assume control of a playoff-ready team that is only a few pieces away from a serious Stanley Cup run.
The biggest difficulty in landing Babcock for the Blues will lie in the team’s finances. Conflicting reports have come out claiming alternatively that he wants to be the highest paid coach in the NHL by a country mile and that he does not the margin to be that large. Regardless, it is believed that a minimum salary of $3.25 million is to be expected for his contract.
In this regard, the Sabres have clearly taken the lead with their staggering offer, one that the Blues will unquestionably be unable to match. They are currently attempting to negotiate a long-term extension for Tarasenko, which will eat up much of their funds. But while the team may not be able to offer a $6 million contract, they will offer Babcock the chance to coach a winning team with exciting potential.
A number of other elements serve as impediments to the process as well, including the fact that Hitchcock and Babcock are firm friends, an intangible that cannot be quantified but cannot be discounted. Hitchcock has served as an assistant on Babcock’s Olympic hockey squads and there is a chance that their closeness could complicate the situation. Furthermore, Babcock’s relationship with Mike Ilitch, the Red Wing’s owner, has never publicly shown strain, only an intense desire for victory. It may seem foolish to break up that partnership now.
Ultimately, the Blues ledgers remain out of sight, thus allowing only for speculation into the possibility that they can open their coffers enough to afford Babcock. The team would also have to resolve their situation with Hitchcock, who has expressed an interest in manning a front office position within the organization if his time as coach is to expire. But if the squad can take on Babcock without breaking the bank and kicking up too much dust, there is no doubt that the coach’s touch would be anything short of welcome behind the benches of the Scottstrade Center.