Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, left, reacts during his team’s 6-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in preseason NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday September 25, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
The Detroit Red Wings can officially now move on from their former coach, Mike Babcock.
“Maybe it meant a little more than playing the Anaheim Mighty Ducks,” Justin Abdelkader said Friday after the Wings’ 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena. “I’m not going to lie there, but at the same time now that this game is past us we look to the future and turn the page, or close the book on that story line.
Abdelkader was able to rub it in just a bit more recording a hat trick in the win against his former coach.
“You know it’s our old coach,” Abdelkader said. “There’s pride, but it’s hockey. It’s business and people move on, people go to different places. We turn the page now.
“It felt good to win, but now it’s just going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Abdelkader continued. “It’s not going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs and Babs.”
After 10 seasons behind the Wings’ bench, where he led the team to the playoffs every season, Babcock landed an eight-year, $50 million deal with Toronto making him the highest paid coach in the NHL.
Detroit’s final offer to Babcock, who made $2 million last season, was $4 million for each of the next five seasons. The offer the Wings general manager Ken Holland made prior to that was a four-year deal worth $3.25 million a season.
The team promoted Jeff Blashill, who had spent the last three seasons in Grand Rapids after one season as Babcock’s assistant in Detroit.
“We’re focused on our group and he’s focused on his,” Abdelkader said. “He was a big part of this organization for 10 years, had some great years here. It’s always tough to turn the page.
“I know he had an opportunity there in Toronto and he jumped on it,” Abdelkader continued. “It was perfect timing for Blash to come up because he had been so successfully in Grand Rapids. He’s going to be a great coach for us. We’re all really excited. The future looks bright.”
The Leafs, who have won 13 Stanley Cups, that last of which came in 1967, last made the playoffs in 2013, losing in the first round to the Boston Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.
The last trip to the postseason prior to that was 2004.
“The storyline is the Red Wings play the Leafs, two Original Six franchises, one that’s holding its rightful place and one that’s trying to get back to where it should be,” Babcock said. “I enjoyed my time here. I was looking forward to this game being over so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. But I’m enjoying being the Leafs coach, too. It’s energizing. It’s way different. And it’s fun.”
The Leafs finished 27th in the overall league standings last season.
“I met with Blash (Thursday) night,” Babcock said. “I know he’s enjoying being the Red Wings coach and he should be the Red Wings coach. He’s a Michigan guy. He’s done a lot to get to this opportunity and he’s got a good team. He’s going to have fun with that and I’m going to have fun coaching the Leafs.”
Babcock, who leaves as the Wings’ all-time winningest coach, took over a winning organization and helped maintain its success.
He guided Detroit to winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and then reached Game 7 of the Cup finals the following year. He’s also the only coach to guide a team to the playoffs every year in the salary-cap era.
“With him being the coach it’s a little different, just standing back there, than when we were playing against (Valtteri Filppula) down in Tampa Bay,” Jimmy Howard said. “It was a little bit sweeter when we got to beat him.”
Under Babcock, the Wings were 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 2009.
“I don’t think so,” Abdelkader said when asked if they want to win more to show they can do it without Babcock. “I think the media makes a bigger deal out of it than it really needs to be. His first time him coming back to the Joe was big, for him coming back to where his family was raised for 10 years, where he called home for so long. For us it was going about our business.”