Wings won’t try and influence Dylan Larkin to turn pro

DETROIT >> While the Detroit Red Wings await a decision on whether or not coach Mike Babcock will return, they’re also waiting to hear on one from their one of their top prospects … Dylan Larkin.

Larkin will make it known sometime after the World Championships in the Czech Republic if he’ll return to the University of Michigan for his second season or turn pro.

And the Wings aren’t going to try and sway him either way.

“I’ve told Dylan we have no role in his decision,” general manager Ken Holland said prior to leaving to take in a few games at the tournament. “It’s different when your junior eligibility is over. Players in Europe and college want to know when they’re turning pro, like where they stand in the organization.

“It’s competition,” Holland continued. “If you don’t win that competition you go to Grand Rapids. I don’t believe in guaranteeing roster spots. My philosophy in player development is you’ve got to compete for a roster spot.”

In six games for the United States, Larkin has one assist with eight shots on goal and a minus-one rating.

“I think whatever decision he makes is a great decision,” Holland said. “Going back to Michigan for another year, playing with your age group is a positive. If he turns pro, there’s no doubt he can play at the AHL level. The question is can he play at the NHL level. You don’t know that until he gets to training camp in Traverse City. He’s still pretty young. The Detroit Red Wings will support his decision.”

The Waterford native was the unanimous winner of the Big Ten’s freshman of the year award, leading the conference’s first-year players in goals (15), assists (32) and points (47) in 35 games with the Wolverines.

He was second at Michigan in goals scored Zach Hyman and tied with him in assists. He did lead the team with 15 power play points (six goals) and with 151 shots on goal.

“He’s a good skater and can transport the puck,” Holland said. “He’s very competitive. He plays a 200-foot game. He back checks hard and he’s conscientious defensively.

“He needs to get physically stronger, like most young players,” Holland continued. “With strength you get heavier. He needs to put on weight and strength.”

Larkin, who’s a two-way center, is the Wings’ highest draft pick, selected 15th overall last year, since 1991.

“He can play the power play, penalty kill, four-on-four,” Holland said. “He can play in every different situation.”

It’s kind of uncommon for the collegiate players the Wings draft to leave the school after one season. Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Jimmy Howard all stayed three years.

Danny DeKeyser did as well, while Luke Glendening played four seasons at Michigan.

DeKeyser and Glendening both went undrafted.

“Some are ready sooner than others,” Holland said. “We’re not swaying him one way or the other. I like players to be mature and have a lot of experiences before they hit the NHL because the NHL is a tough league.”

Larkin had a very good World Junior Championships, leading the United States with five goals, seven points and a plus-seven rating.

“He’s a very good prospect,” Holland said. “I like his determination, his passion. He has the intangibles. He competes and doesn’t mind going to the hard areas. He’s got intangibles as part of his skills.

“When you’re building a team, you like to be strong down the middle,” Holland added. “We’re very pleased with the year he’s had.”

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.

Weiss unsure of role next season with Wings

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings’ $5 million dollar man had another one of those less than $5 million dollar performance seasons.

And a lot of his performance issues are due to how things went his first season with the Wings since signing a hefty five-year deal worth $24.5 million.

Stephen Weiss, 32, tried to play through a sports hernia, which he started to feel the effects of during training camp, that first year. He wound up having sports hernia surgery and then had a second procedure later to repair an issue with scar tissue.

“What I had in mind last year was tough going through those injuries and it kind of hurt me this year,” Weiss said during the Wings’ locker room cleanup Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “Didn’t get in the lineup right away and I was still going through a bit of issues when I did get in the lineup. That took some time. I felt like I played really well when I got back and then for whatever reason fell down the lineup and just couldn’t recover.”

In the first season in Detroit, Weiss managed to play just 26 games totaling two goals, two assists and a minus-4.

“Looking back on it I should have taken time right away instead of playing through it,” Weiss said. “When I decided to play through it that wound up costing me.”

He played in 52 games regular season games this year and finished with nine goals and 16 assists.

Weiss appeared in the first two playoff games against Tampa Bay before finding himself benched the rest of the series.

“I’ve been around long enough, it was frustrating,” Weiss said. “You always want to do more. You feel like you can do more. I felt that way. I wanted to be in there, especially in the playoffs playing and have a bigger role, but it wasn’t to be.”

In all, he’s appeared in just 78 of a possible 164 regular season games since signing with the Wings.

After beginning this year as a healthy scratch, Weiss seemed to ignite the offense when he got in after a brief conditioning stint in Grand Rapids.

He had two goals in his first game back and had another goal in his next game.

In a seven-game stretch, Weiss had four goals and six assists. He had just five goals and 10 assists over the next 44 games as he slipped further and further down the lineup.

“At this point I’m just trying to get stronger and stay healthy over the summer and hopefully find a way to get a bigger role,” said Weiss, who missed the final 26 games of the 2012-13 season with Florida due to a wrist injury. “That would be nice. I feel like I can do a lot more. We’ll see.

“I think the way things ended last year when I came back when the season started I wasn’t in the lineup, I was a healthy scratch, sat around for a while,” Weiss continued. “They told me they were going to put me in and wanted to know if I wanted to go play a couple games in Grand Rapids. I wanted to. I went and did that, came back and got a good opportunity then. Playing with (Pavel Datsyuk) there for a little bit and playing pretty well. And then, for whatever reason, I just fell down the lineup. I wasn’t playing a ton and when you’re not playing a lot it’s tough to do what you’ve always done.”

Babcock back behind Wings bench is Plan A for Holland; two plan to meet a few times in the next 10 days to discuss

DETROIT >> The answer to the question of whether or not Wings coach Mike Babcock will return between the bench will have to go unanswered, at least for the next week to 10 days.

“Ken (Holland) and I haven’t talked,” Babcock opened up with during the locker cleanout day at Joe Louis Arena Friday. “We talked about it once and then we haven’t talked about it at all. In the next 10 days we’re going to talk about it.

“If Grand Rapids wins, we’ll go together to the game on Sunday, a couple hours over, a couple hours back,” Babcock continued. “I talked to my wife, to be honest with you, for the first time (Thursday). I think some think there’s been this grandiose plan, there’s no plan. I’ve been using my energy to try to get into the playoffs and to play hard and execute well in the playoffs. Now obviously this is the next thing.”

The Wings GM says getting Babcock back behind the bench in Detroit is his Plan A.

“I’m hoping to fulfill Plan A,” Holland said. “If I don’t deliver Plan A then I have to look at Plan B, C, and D. Right now Plan A is Mike Babcock.

“I think (Grand Rapids Griffins coach) Jeff Blashill is an NHL coach in the making and will be behind an NHL bench at some point and time I’m just not sure where and when, but Plan A for me is to put Mike Babcock behind our bench,” Holland added. “I’m not doing anything with our coaches until we’ve got a coach in place. I’m not letting everyone go interview and then I have to do an interview process after the fact.”

Holland didn’t want to speculate on if he’d be introducing a new coach after this process has run its course.

“I don’t go to horse races and I don’t handicap stuff,” Holland said. “Anything is a possibility in life. At the end of the day, my attitude is I want people that want to be here. Because I think you’re going to get the most out of your group and individuals when they want to be here.

“I’m not going to handicap it, but I’m also not going to tell you it’s 100 percent this way or that way,” Holland continued. “Anything can happen in life. I want Mike to stay. I’ve expressed that to him. Money isn’t going to be an object. I’ve expressed that to him.”

And as far as the roster transitioning to younger players, “We started out the 2013-14 season with a lot of older guys and the plan was they were going to carry us for a year and we were going to put a bunch of kids in the American Hockey League and we were going to slowly transition,” Holland said. “It happened six months ahead and it was actually better because we got to watch them on the fly, but then as the year ended last year you keep asking if they can do it again and do it again or did they just sort of get caught up in the excitement for 15-20 games.”

What Holland doesn’t want to have happen is this drag out till late June.

“I don’t want to be waking up and things don’t go your way and I’m doing a coaching interviews when everything has been filled,” Holland said. “I think Mike’s the same. I think the month of May. I’d like to think over the next month I get a good sense of where we’re at. I had putting on deadline. It’s not only me. Mike’s in the mix and his thoughts, his family and his feelings. I’d like to think we’d start next week and we’ll talk once or twice and he’ll know what I’m thinking and I’ll know what he’s thinking then you go from there.”

Babcock in ‘driver’s seat’ when it comes to where he’ll coach next season

DETROIT >> Will he stay or will he go?

That’ll be the question lingering around Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings until a decision on his future is made either by the coach himself or the organization.

Babcock is scheduled to meet with general manager Ken Holland on Friday morning prior to the team photo and locker cleanout at Joe Louis Arena.

Will a decision be announced after that?

That seems highly unlikely.

Babcock, who turned 52 on Wednesday, wants to weigh his options, and with coaches still in place at his possible landing spots, he can do that.

“He’s in the driver’s seat,” Holland said. “He’s one of the top coaches in the game, if not the top coach and he’s in the prime of his career.
“Our hope is that Mike wants to stay,” Holland continued. “He’s positioned himself to have the option to explore.”

His contract doesn’t expire until June 30, which means he can’t talk to any other teams until then. He’s searching for a deal that would pay him close to $5 million a season.

The only thing that would speed up the process is the Wings deciding to not give him a contract and pursue his replacement, which could come within the organization in Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill.

Babcock said after the Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season Wednesday that he wasn’t going to discuss his future until he meets again with the media after locker cleanout.

He just wrapped up his 11th season in Detroit, earning roughly $2 million a season.

The Wings have not 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.

They’ve also been eliminated in the first round three of the last four seasons.

“We want him back, I’ve expressed that,” Holland said. “He’ll have a lot of say in how it all plays out.”

Babcock wants to win.

He’ll be the first to tell you that.

“I just thought our team played hard and we gave ourselves an opportunity but you want to win,” Babcock said after the Wings’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7. “I want to win. In order to do that, you’ve got to score more goals and you got to find a way to win the series, bottom line right there but we didn’t get it done.”

And with that said, Babcock shed some light on how he perceives the Wings’ current roster and that their future looks like.

“I would tell you this, that our team isn’t as good as it was,” Babcock said. “It was very evident we battled our butts off to get in the playoffs. They picked us, whether you guys know what you’re talking about or not, they picked us to miss the playoffs and then no one even picks us to win in the playoffs. I thought we gave (Tampa Bay) a real good run for their money to say the least.”

His main focus appears to be on the core group – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall – which isn’t getting any younger.

“You are what you are and (the Lighting) have a young team that they were bad here for long enough that they were able to rebuild it,” Babcock said. “Good, young players and they’ve got young players in key positions. 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.”

Datsyuk turns 37 in July, Zetterberg turns 35 in October and Kronwall turned 34 in January.

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, was offered a four-year deal in excess of $3 million a season that would have made him the highest paid coach in the league.

Babcock said if a deal wasn’t in place before the season began he would not discuss a contract until after the season.

Quote of the day … Petr Mrazek

DETROIT >> Petr Mrazek on his unbelievable save on Brian Boyle, who had a wide-open net, but the Wings netminder reached back and swatted the puck out midair with his stick to keep it out.

“It’s a lucky save,” Mrazek said. “If you put it on the ice or higher that’s a goal, it’s just one of the lucky ones and for the fans nice save.”

Zetterberg still has yet to score in series

DETROIT >> Henrik Zetterberg is on the verge of doing something he’s never done as a member of the Detroit Red Wings … not score a goal in a series.

Zetterberg has scored in each of his previous 21 series with the Wings.

“Obviously you want to produce more than I have done,” Zetterberg said. “I had more looks during these games. Game 1 and Game 2 I didn’t play good. After that it’s been better, but obviously it would be nice to see the back of the net.

“You just try to do everything right,” Zetterberg added. “Play good defensively, good at face-offs, and try to lead by example. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Zetterberg has three assists through six games.

“I haven’t (talked to him) and I’m not going to either,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Just play hard (Wednesday) and do a good job.”

He has just two goals in his last 35 games dating back to Jan. 27.

“I think Hank’s doing a lot of good things,” linemate Justin Abdelkader said. “Hank’s a player that even if he’s not on the score sheet he’s going to positively affect the game. He’s our leader. Playoffs are all about different guys chipping in. It’s not always going to be your big-name guys. You see (Steven) Stamkos over there hasn’t scored any goals. I imagine they’re talking about him, too. I think playoffs are about your depth as a team, different guys chipping in. It’s not always going to be your all-stars or superstars.”

Zetterberg does have a knack of stepping up in the big game. In six previous Game 7s he’s appeared in, the Wings captain has three goals and three assists.