News broke today that Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has granted “free agent” head coach Mike Babcock permission to speak to other teams. Holland said that he offered a contract extension to Babcock, but that the coach had earned the right to see what else is out there. Although Detroit is probably still in the running for Babcock’s services, this latest news may be the writing on the wall that he’s ready to move on. Not surprisingly, there has been a buzz on Twitter over the report that Babcock is officially available.
Hard to see Babcock turning down the Leafs job new challenges for the best coach in hockey
— Peter Vasaturo (@TweetswithTar09) May 8, 2015
— Oilerfan in Rehab (@DrSlevil) May 8, 2015
— Pens Fan YYC (@66penguins) May 8, 2015
If the Oilers front office is going to make a play for Mike Babcock now our chance pay him a kings ransom if you have to.#Babcock2Edmonton
— TheSaiyanPikachu (@khaos_24) May 8, 2015
If you type Mike Babcock’s name into Twitter, you would quickly learn that he’s the most sought-after coach in the league. He comes with a winning pedigree, an air of instant respect and a reputation of getting a lot out of his players. Yes, for a guy who has never won the Jack Adams Award, he sure gets a lot of attention. And obviously, because of the understanding that Connor McDavid will be an Oiler next season, Babcock’s name has been linked to Edmonton. Now, we don’t know for sure if it’s just hopeful fans that want him to coach the Oilers, or that Babcock himself would actually consider it.
The Oilers recently hired a new General Manager in Peter Chiarelli. He’s the kind of GM who wants full control over the personal decisions on his hockey team. Mike Babcock is the kind of coach who likes to have a say in those decisions. So while it seems like a “good fit” (not really, it’s just because the fans want him there), the partnership of Babcock and Chiarelli might not be a match made in heaven. When you have a guy with the reputation of Mike Babcock available, obviously you do your due diligence. Chiarelli will be speaking to the coach, and maybe they can work something out. But is Babcock really the best man for the job?
Mike Babcock has won the Stanley Cup once in is NHL coaching career, and has been to the final three times. He has a playoff record of 82-62, a winning percentage of .569. We can debate the merits of Babcock, and argue if he’s as good of a coach as he’s perceived to be. A lot of fans hear a name that they recognize, one that gets a lot of attention, and then assume he’s the perfect coach for their favorite team. They believe it would be crazy not to hire him or at least try to.
But the Oilers are not the Detroit Red Wings. They are a struggling franchise in the midst of a rebuild. They have the amazing fortune of being able to draft a generational talent in McDavid, and his presence can certainly speed things up. And, to many fans, having both McDavid in the lineup and Babcock as a coach should ensure that all the best free agents will want to come to Edmonton. But, how many big name free agents have chosen to sign in Detroit over the past few seasons? Babcock doesn’t equal success any more than McDavid does. There are still holes to fill.
As we speak, Oilers stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are over in Europe playing for Canada at the World Championships. They, as their team, are having a great tournament so far. Their coach, who is also available to be hired, is Todd McLellan, a former assistant to Mike Babcock. He was the head coach of the San Jose Sharks for the past seven years. His playoff record is 30-32, a winning percentage of .484. He is also highly sought after, and one of the candidates on the Oilers wish list.
Hall and Eberle have recently sung the praises of McLellan:
“He’s been great. He pushed all the right buttons. We have a lot of respect for him and I think that’s really shining through. I’ve been impressed. Hopefully he’s one of the candidates (in Edmonton). I look forward to see what’s going to happen there.” [Edmonton Sun]
Will their comments factor into Chiarelli’s decision? Possibly, but I wouldn’t assume their opinion carries a ton of weight. McLellan is often seen as the next best choice if you can’t get Babcock. He has a ring as an assistant, but not as a head coach, despite a ton of regular season success with the Sharks. The Oilers are a unique situation. They aren’t instant Stanley Cup contenders, but they have a great base to build upon. Babcock wants to win. Is he up for the challenge of a project? What happens if the Oilers still struggle to make the playoffs the next few seasons. Can you fire a guy like Babcock after all this?
I don’t know if Todd McLellan is the right coach for the Oilers. either. But I do know that no coach is going to guarantee success unless they get a goalie and some better defencemen. Babcock will bring a lot of attention, but will he bring them a Championship? He was only able to do that once for the Red Wings, and hasn’t been close in a while. But McLellan hasn’t won at all as a head coach. I don’t know which coach can bring the Oilers Stanley Cup glory. I think it may have more to do with the players out on the ice than the guy standing behind the bench.
What say you? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.