Mike Babcock won’t return behind the bench in Detroit

DETROIT >> The Mike Babcock coaching era in Detroit has officially drawn to a close.

A number of NHL insiders, the last of which was Kevin Allen of USA Today, confirmed through sources that Babcock would not be returning behind the Red Wings bench.

As to where he’ll end up is still not known.

All signs point to Toronto after Buffalo and St. Louis had pulled their names out of the Babcock sweepstakes.

The Maple Leafs got into a bidding war with the Sabres Wednesday.

The Wings also drove up their final five-year offer to Babcock, 52, to $4 million a season.

Babcock, who’s under contract until June 30, has been Detroit’s coach for the last 10 seasons.

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.

Four teams asked the Wings permission to speak with Babcock – Buffalo, Toronto, San Jose and St. Louis.

Babcock wanted to go to a team that would be an instant contender and with a young core group.

Babcock saw Detroit’s core – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall – being up there in age.

“Our team isn’t as good as it was,” Babcock said after Detroit was eliminated in seven games by the Tampa Bay Lightning. “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. 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.”

Detroit’s last contract offer to Babcock prior to the Wednesday was a four-year deal worth $3.25 million a season, which is a significant increase from the $2 million a year he made in his last contract.

Detroit’s next coach will be Jeff Blashill.

Three teams have asked the Wings permission to speak with Blashill, which they promptly denied.

Detroit gave Blashill a hefty raise last summer to stay in the organization, seemingly as an insurance card if Babcock decided to bolt after this season.

Blashill, who led the Grand Griffins to the Calder Cup title in 2013 and has them in the conference finals this year, is making double of what the average American League Hockey coach gets paid.

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