DETROIT >> From the sounds of things, Mike Babcock will not be coming back to the Detroit Red Wings.
Although nothing is official and nothing will become official until around the end of May, the writing of his departure has been on the wall since last offseason.
The Wings 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.
Then came Friday when general manager Ken Holland gave his coach for the past 10 seasons permission to begin talking to other teams about taking over for them behind the bench.
Babcock is trying to say all the right things.
“As soon as people heard that that first thing they think is ‘He’s long gone,’” Babcock said during a phone interview on Friday. “That’s so far from the truth it’s not funny.
“I’m going to gather information,” Babcock continued. “I’m going to the World Championships and I’m going to watch Dylan Larkin. I’m just going about what I normally do.”
Along with going to the Czech Republic to watch one of the Wings’ top prospects play for the United States, Babcock will be meeting with suitors for his services next season.
“To be honest, my family wants to stay here, my wife and kids,” Babcock said. “The Wings have given me the opportunity to talk to other teams and I’m going to take advantage of it.
“Life is about making good decisions,” Babcock continued. “Sometimes the most comfortable time is when you have no decision. I’ve got a good GM, a great owner, they offered me an opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of that.”
Babcock does a good job of laying down hints, many of which came this season, giving some insight as to how he views the Wings’ organization.
“I would tell you this, our team isn’t as good as it was,” Babcock said after Detroit was eliminated in seven games during the first round of the playoffs. “You are what you are and (Tampa Bay has) a young team. They were bad here for long enough that they were able to rebuild it. Good, young players and they got young players in key positions.”
His main focus appears to be on the core group – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall – which isn’t getting any younger.
Datsyuk turns 37 in July, Zetterberg turns 35 in October and Kronwall turned 34 in January.
“Three of our best players are 34, 35, 37, so any way you look at it, we’re a team that’s changed a bunch of players,” Babcock continued. “We’re a team that’s added a lot of youth to the lineup. Right now on the outside they don’t pick us as a Stanley Cup contender.”
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.
Babcock said after the loss in Game 7 that it was the “worst day” he’s had coaching in Detroit in his 10 season here.
“Was that because I thought in my heart we were going to win that series and we should still be playing, was that because of what’s coming? I don’t know the answer to that, but I just know that there’s a 24-hour rule in my house for sulking and I used all 24 hours,” Babcock said. “I see that we’ve got a whole bunch of kids here that need to not hope that they’re going to be a good player in the fall and get to work right now so they can be a good player.
“I think the majority of our growth needs to be from within because we need young legs,” Babcock continued. “We’ve got lots of it. We’ve got a lot of competition for jobs so that to me is more of a focus than free agency.”
The Wings began the process of incorporating young talent and needed to do so rapidly because of injuries two seasons ago to extend their playoff streak.
They also have a number of highly talented players in the minors.
Babcock, who has led Canada to two straight Olympic gold medals, continues to say his priorities haven’t changed. It’s still about winning and family.
“Those are the two most important things I’m leaning on,” Babcock said. “I’m walking through a sequence of events to make a decision.”
He added he’s not leaning one way or another.
“I’ll talk to teams that asked for permission and we’ll see what happens from there,” Babcock said.
And in the end Babcock will more than likely decide he’ll be coaching somewhere other than HockeyTown next season.