DETROIT >> For just the second time in his NHL coaching career, Mike Babcock has been named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given annually by the broadcasters to the league’s top coach.
Babcock, 51, set a franchise record this season with his 415th win, passing Scotty Bowman and Jack Adams, whom the award is named after, in the process. He’s led the Wings to a Stanley Cup and a two conference championships.
“The way I look it the coach of the year gets to raise the Stanley Cup and the rest of us are trying to get better,” Babcock said during the Wings’ locker cleanout after being eliminated in five games by the Boston Bruins during the first round of the playoffs. “I thought we did lots of good things here this year. It was spectacular to get in the playoffs because our guys worked so hard.”
With a depleted lineup missing stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, along with free agent signee Stephen Weiss, Babcock had to work with a roster full of youngsters this season and still was able to guide the franchise to a 23rd consecutive postseason berth.
“He was very clear in his message – obviously that the wins where important – but we were going to get in,” said Gustav Nyquist, who led the team with 28 goals despite playing just 57 games. “That was the message and as a team we didn’t care about all of the injuries that we had. We were going to find a way to get in, and that was the message that he was preaching the whole time.
“When you come to the game you know you’re going to be prepared because he’s done all of the work along with all of his coaches,” Nyquist said. “They really took care of you for the game and made sure that you knew all of the tendencies of the other team. He’s a great teacher. With the young guys he’s had to do a little bit more. He’s done that for me and a lot of the other young guys by teaching us a little bit more individually and kind of explained what it was going to be like out there.”
Zetterberg and Datsyuk each played 45 games of the 82-game regular season.
“If you look at our injuries, and just not the amount of guys that we lost, but who we lost, we were without either Hank or Pav or both for a lot of the time,” Nyquist said. “Not a lot of teams can say they were without their two best players for most of the year. I think the way that he and his coaching staff brought up new guys and taught the young guys on the fly how to be a Red Wing; I think he did an amazing job for sure.”
Nine players made their NHL debuts during the regular season, the most since 14 rookies did so during the 1990-91 season.
“One thing that he really preaches is for us to be everyday players, although everyone knows that you can’t play your best game every day but the effort has to be there,” Nyquist said. “That’s how you learn to be a Red Wing, you have to be an everyday player, bring it every day.”
Colorado’s Patrick Roy and Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper are the other two finalists.
Both Roy and Cooper are in their first year behind the bench with their respective teams and both guided them to the playoffs.
The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 24.
Babcock was also nominated in his second season with the Wings in 2008 when he guided the team to the Presidents’ Trophy. He finished third in the voting behind Bruce Boudreau (Washington) and Guy Carbonneau (Montreal).
Babcock, who just wrapped up his ninth season with the Wings and has compiled a regular season record of 415-198-91, is heading into the final year of a contract that pays him roughly $2 million a season.
It’s the second time in the past three seasons Detroit hasn’t made it out of the first round. They haven’t advanced past the second round the past five postseasons.
“I want him back behind the bench,” general manager Ken Holland said during the Wings locker cleanout. “I respect the job he does for us. I respect his work ethic. I respect the job he did putting the young players into our system and sticking with them. I think if you write down a list of the best coaches in the National Hockey League he’s on that short list. I think many would have him on the top of that list.
“I’m going to talk to him,” Holland added. “From the time a team gets eliminated from the playoffs until early August, these are the times for big decisions. I want to talk to Mike here in the next couple of months and we’ll see what comes of it.”
Babcock has also led Canada to two straight Olympic gold medals.
Scotty Bowman, Jacques Demers and Bobby Kromm are former Wings’ coaches who received the Jack Adams Award. Demers won it twice.