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Mike Babcock: ‘It’s a career decision’

DETROIT >> In the end it came down to a new opportunity and a new challenge when Mike Babcock made his choice to leave from behind the bench he called home for the last 10 seasons.

And it wasn’t an easy one for him.

“Oh, it’s going to be hard,” said Babcock, who fought back tears numerous times addressing the media one last time Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “I have a burning desire to win. Winning where I’m going is going to be different. The immediate gratification thing that I’m used to every game day that I love is going to be hard. Yet, there’s a big plan there. They’ve made a big commitment, a long-term commitment to me. I’ve made a long-term commitment to them.

“We’re going to go grow that franchise,” Babcock continued. “The guys have already told me they’re happy to lay the boots to us when they play us. They already told me that. But what we’re going to do is we’re going to build a franchise that people of Toronto can be proud of.”

Babcock, 52, was named the Toronto Maple Leafs coach on Thursday and became the highest paid NHL coach – $50 million over eight years – in the process.

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.

“I didn’t want more than five years with Kenny,” Babcock said. “You already knew what you had here. When you’re going to these other places and they’re setup the way they are you needed more term. You needed more commitment. I even said to Kenny at one time just give me three. I wasn’t concerned about that at all. In the end what happened I think two pretty good friends sat down and talked it out. He’s my advisor too. In the end I had to make a decision.”

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.

“It’s a career decision,” Babcock said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in my life chasing a dream thinking you can make it happen and it’s worked out thus far. Don’t get me wrong I love it here, but I also think it was time for me.”

The Leafs, who have the fifth and 24th overall picks in this year’s draft, finished 27th in the overall league standings last season.

“I wanted a different challenge and when I got it in my head I’m coaching an Original Six franchise, the model of the NHL, if I’m going to leave I have to go to an Original Six franchise,” Babcock said. “I went back and forth on it 100 times. I probably wore Kenny out being a pain in the butt and I know I wore my family out. It was gut-wrenching. As much of it is emotional for me right now I felt (Thursday) like I was 25. I was jacked up, scared to death. Only time will tell. I believe you put your foot on the gas and go get it and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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.

Babcock said he spoke with the Wings’ core players Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and left a message for Niklas Kronwall.

“I don’t think the young guys needed it,” Babcock said when asked if the team needed a new voice. “I love those guys. I’m going to be friends with those guys forever. When Pav goes home one day and sets up his sports school, I’m going to go help him. They’re great men. You don’t win as a coach without great players and great leadership. They provided me an opportunity.

“When I talked about the age of Z and Pav and Kronner at the end and the new guys coming and they’ve got to do it,” Babcock added. “That’s what those guys did for this franchise for 10 years. They’re great people. Do they need a new voice? Ask them. The way I look at it is I’m proud when I walk out of here knowing that, one of the teams I talked to showed me that we averaged 106.4 points over my 10 years here and that we played 23 playoff rounds, both the most and the only team to make the playoffs (all 10 years).”

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 2009.

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Babcock pledges to build Cup contender in Toronto

DETROIT >> Mike Babcock has never minced words when it comes to his need to win.

Now Babcock’s biggest desire will turn into what could be a very long process after he was officially named the next head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday afternoon.

“I never came here to make the playoffs,” Babcock said during his press conference. “I came here to be involved in a Cup process. That goes from scouting, to drafting, to development, to analytics, from putting an off-ice team together, putting an on-ice team together.

“I love to win,” Babcock continued. “I have a burning desire to win, but I also want to win in the end. I don’t want to just get in the playoffs. We want to build a team that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of.”

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.

“When you win every day it becomes pretty safe for the players,” Babcock said. “Right now it’s a hard spot. It’s tough. We’re going to change that, but it’s going to take time. As a coach you’re in the day-to-day winning business. I’ve been in it a long time. On game day I’ll be short sighted for sure, but I’ve got a big picture in mind. But if you think there’s no pain coming … there’s pain coming.”

The Leafs, who have the fifth and 24th overall picks in this year’s draft, finished 27th in the overall league standings last season.

“Fear I think is a great thing,” Babcock said. “It’s about being alive. At 52 I’m not ready to die. I want to get on with it here. I made a long term commitment to the Leafs and our plan is to grow the team.”

Babcock also became the highest paid coach – $50 million over eight years – in the NHL in the process.

“The contract is simply a commitment from the Maple Leafs to success,” Babcock said. “They made a long-term commitment to me, so I understand totally they’re committed to the process.”

All signs on Tuesday pointed to Babcock heading to Buffalo. That changed when Toronto and the Wings rejoined the process.

“I talked to lots of teams,” Babcock said when asked if he used Buffalo to leverage his bargaining position with other teams. “When you’re talking to teams negotiating is in that process. The hardest thing for the media to do was to figure out where I was going because I had no idea where I was going. It was a hard decision. We changed our mind … not a change of mind we went back and forth so many times (about) the right thing was to do.”

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 Wing made prior to that was a four-year deal worth $3.25 million a season.

“That lying word is an interesting word for me,” Babcock said when accused by a reporter of lying to the Sabres. “I’ve been in the public eye for a long, long time. I don’t think that goes anywhere near who I am or what I’m about. I’ve been real straightforward and honest in the process with all the teams I talked to and with my ownership. I just worked for 10 years in Detroit, as a head coach you don’t work in places for a long time unless you have good relationships and you treat people right. So that would be the end of that for me.”

The Wings will get a third-round pick during the next three seasons as compensation for Babcock, whose contract was set to expire on June 30, signing with Toronto.

“I embrace this opportunity of coaching the Maple Leafs,” Babcock said. “I came here with my eyes open and I understand totally what’s going on. I went through a process of I don’t know how many days to figure this out. In the end I made the right decision and I’m excited about it.”

Babcock’s the only coach to have guided a team to the playoffs every season of the salary-cap era.

However, 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 hits the jackpot in Toronto, getting $50 million over eight seasons

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

And his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs will begin.

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Babcock will be announced as the new coach for the Maple Leafs, inking an eight-year deal worth $50 million.

Toronto got into a bidding war with the Buffalo 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.

Detroit will get a third-round pick during the next three seasons from Toronto has compensation.

The Wings have been the only team in the salary-cap era to reach the playoffs every season, all under Babcock.

However, 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.

Toronto has none of that.

The Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups, but the last came in 1967.

The Leafs 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.

Toronto also doesn’t have a general manager in place.

Babcock does know Toronto president Brendan Shanahan, who played under him for one season in Detroit.

He could also have more player control than he had in Detroit, but it’s not known how much.

Toronto does have the fifth and 24th overall picks in this year’s draft.

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.

Four teams have asked permission to speak with Babcock; Blashill will be team’s next coach if he leaves

DETROIT >> Mike Babcock’s options to coach next season are down to five.

A source confirmed Sunday that four teams have asked and signed the compensation letter to speak with Babcock about coaching next season – Buffalo, Toronto, San Jose and St. Louis.

If Babcock decides to sign with another team the Wings will get a third-round pick during the next three seasons from his new club.

Babcock has met Buffalo and Toronto at the World Championships in the Czech Republic and is expected to meet with the Sharks either Monday or Tuesday.

It’s believed he’s also meet with the Blues at the tournament.

Two other teams that were thought to be in the Babcock sweepstakes – Edmonton and Philadelphia – did not ask for permission to discuss employment.

The Wings’ last contract offer to Babcock 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.

Babcock could get close to $5 million a season from the Maple Leafs or Sabres.

An increased offer by the Wings seems unlikely to match that kind of money.

The Wings offered Babcock, who’s spent the last 10 seasons in Detroit, a contract last June that he didn’t accept.

They came back with that second offer in January, but Babcock wanted to wait until the playoffs were over to discuss matters.

A decision from Babcock will come this week sometime and could be as early as Wednesday.

If Babcock decides to sign with another team Detroit’s next coach will Jeff Blashill.

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

Detroit gave Blashill a hefty 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 a win away from reach the conference finals this year, is making double of what the average American League Hockey coach gets paid.

Babcock has also focused on the Wings’ core group – 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.”

Both Toronto and Buffalo are rebuilding.

San Jose has a similar aging roster like the Wings.

St. Louis’ roster gives Babcock, who just finished his 10th season in Detroit, a much quicker path to winning a Stanley Cup.

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’s contract expires with the Wings on June 30.

All signs point to Babcock leaving Detroit

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.

Babcock gives starting job to Mrazek, feels he gives them best chance in the playoffs

DETROIT >> Petr Mrazek may have played his way into being the Wings’ starting goalie in the playoffs.

Wings coach Mike Babcock said he made his decision on who would lead the team in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning after Saturday night.

That night Mrazek blanked Carolina in the regular-season finale, making 33 saves for his third shutout of the season.

“I just watch the guys play and I just thought that gives us the best way to start the series,” Babcock said. “Don’t confuse the player and the person. What I do is try and take all the emotion out of it and I try to take the information I have by watching games and by talking to our staff and then I make the decision that’s best for the team.”

When Mrazek is on he’s on.

In his last six wins he has a .982 save percentage (stopping 172 of 175 shots), a 0.50 goal against average and three shutouts.

“I’m excited,” Mrazek said. “It’s their decision and I can be just happy for that and do my best.

“It’s a huge chance,” Mrazek continued. “It’s the same chance I had when I was 20 years old in Grand Rapids, my first year being starter for playoffs so that’s a new challenge for me.”

Mrazek led the Griffins to the Calder Cup that season.

“When I said before the game in Carolina, that was a big game for me because I had three games I didn’t have a win, I had just one point against Ottawa so that game was huge and finished the season with the win,” Mrazek said.

Mrazek also blanked the Lightning, who are the highest-scoring team in the league, in the last meeting of the regular season against the teams, making 23 saves.

“It’s not about any of us right now, it’s about the Detroit Red Wings,” Babcock said. “It’s real simple. I went through that again this morning, it doesn’t matter if you play one shift or 50 shifts or you’re scratched or not, it’s how you handle it and how you make the team better. The individual time of the year is all over. It’s all about the team, let’s get ready to play.”

Howard, who gave up three soft goals in an overtime loss to Montreal last Thursday, had lost the starting job to Mrazek after back-to-back poor outings.

Howard allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes on March 24 and then was yanked after allowing three goals on 10 shots in one period the very next game against the San Jose Sharks.

“When you evaluate goalies you evaluate them on who they are and their skill sets are different,” Babcock said. “Then you just decide on which one can help the team and help you win.”

Mrazek had his ups and downs when he took over as the number one.

After shutting the Lighting, he was replaced by Howard his next start against the New York Islanders, allowing four goals on 11 shots.

Prior to Saturday, he had allowed just six goals over this last three starts, but has gone just 0-2-1 in them.

“It’s a team sport and if the team plays real good it gives your goaltender a better chance,” Babcock continued. “Pete’s played real good games for us this year and has done a fair bit of winning for us. I made that decision.”

Quote of the day … Wings coach Mike Babcock

DETROIT >> Here’s Wings coach Mike Babcock’s response when asked about how comfortable he is if Petr Mrazek is the No. 1 goalie heading into the playoffs.

“I like winning,” Babcock said. “That’s it. It’s real simple. Everybody in the National Hockey League knows that the best guys get to play and if you’re playing the best you get to play. Our players start each game knowing that. It’s no different. Anytime you’re struggling as a player it’s your job to work extra hard when you get your opportunity it’s to seize your opportunity. So it’s no different for Pete Mrazek. He gets an opportunity. He’s got to seize it. We just watch and they decide who plays, not us. Everyone thinks the coach decides. All the coach does is observe, no different than you do. He just does it from a different perspective. And then the guys who play the best get to play.”