Holland playing it safe, letting Babcock talk to other teams so Wings aren’t caught late searching for a coach

DETROIT >> The first piece to solving who will be the Detroit Red Wings coach for the 2015-16 season has been placed.

However, it doesn’t bring the Wings any closer to figuring out who’ll be behind their bench next season.

Detroit general manager Ken Holland has given Mike Babcock permission to talk with other teams about possibly taking over as coach.

And that process could begin as early as this weekend when Babcock is in the Czech Republic taking in the World Championships.

“We want him back as our coach,” said Holland, who gave Babcock permission to talk to other teams while the two drove to Grand Rapids to watch the Griffins play last Sunday. “He would like the opportunity to explore any possibilities that are out there for him. Certainly we are a possibility.

“He has given us 10 great years behind our bench I feel that he’s earned that right,” Holland continued. “And at the same time his contract expires at the end of June, so he’s an unrestricted free agent per se in less than a couple of months. So I just think that in the best interest of Mike being able to see if we are the best situation for him, it’s best to give him an opportunity if teams call and ask for permission we are going to grant them permission.”

Holland told Babcock that he’d like his decision in the next two to three weeks or at the latest by the end of May.

“In the meantime, Mike and I will continue to stay in contact and then based upon how things go for Mike in his conversations with other teams we’ll see where it goes,” Holland said.

Holland said teams have been calling for permission to talk to Babcock since the Wings were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round.

“I want Mike here if Mike wants to be here,” Holland said. “That’s always been my attitude with players and with personnel. If there’s a better opportunity for you elsewhere then you probably should pursue it.

“I want Mike to be here because he thinks this is the best situation for him, for his family, for his career,” Holland continued. “He obviously knows everything about us. I still think we’re a legitimate candidate per se. I believe he’s happy. I believe he has lots of good feelings about being here.”

Toronto, Buffalo, Philadelphia and San Jose all have coaching vacancies. Others, including Edmonton, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, could open up spots now that Babcock is technically on the open market.

Holland wasn’t sure if Babcock, whose contract with Detroit doesn’t expire until June 30, would come back to the Wings to make a final offer if he’s found another suitor for him.

“I’m sure some things he might not be able to tell me and ultimately if he decides all of a sudden there’s some team out there is the absolute perfect fit for him then he might come back to me and say, ‘Ken, I think there’s a better fit out there,’” Holland said. “Or he could come back and we could continue to talk. I think we’re going forward. It’s going to have to play itself out as we go along and as Mike starts to talk to some teams.”

Teams that want to speak to Babcock must sign a letter of compensation agreeing to give the Wings a third-round pick over the next three seasons if they hire him.

Holland confirmed they offered Babcock a contract last June that he didn’t accept.

They came back with another offer in January, which is believed to be for four years and just over $3 million a season, but Babcock wanted to wait until the playoffs were over to discuss matters.

The leading candidates to replace Babcock if he chooses to leave could be Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill, who was an assistant under Babcock for one season, or Todd McLellan, who was San Jose’s coach for the past seven seasons and an assistant under Babcock for three seasons.

Babcock is the winningest coach in franchise history and is the only coach to lead a team to the playoffs every season since the implementation of the salary cap.

“Certainly I understand the risk that when you grant somebody permission that we can wake down the road here in the next two or three weeks and we can find out there that Mike has decided to leave Detroit and go coach somewhere else,” Holland said. “In my opinion, that was going to happen anyway. There’s no use me just using this exclusive window until the end of June to kind of box him out that he can’t go anywhere.”

The Wings have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs since losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final in the 2008-09 season, the year after Babcock won his only Cup in Detroit.

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