Mike Babcock will coach the Detroit Red Wings through the end of next season. That’s a certainty.
But beyond next year, it’s really up to Babcock.
When the Wings gathered to take their team picture and clean out their lockers a little over a week ago, Babcock made his intentions perfectly clear.
For now, he’ll continue to coach in Detroit in some capacity because his daughter will be a senior in high school.
Babcock jokingly said that if he wasn’t the Wings coach next season, he’d be Red Berenson’s assistant at Michigan.
And then he said, "Look, I can get a job."
After the 2014-15 season — Babcock’s last under contract — he will have been Detroit’s coach for 10 seasons.
It’s a common belief that, regardless of how effective a coach is, the message becomes stale after a decade, making a change of scenery beneficial for the team and often the outgoing coach.
There are always exceptions to that rule, and Babcock could certainly be one of those exceptions. But he’s in a rare position.
This is how I see Babcock’s contract situation playing out.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland will receive a contract extension sometime this summer. He and Babcock will then be perfectly content starting the season with Babcock as a lame duck.
As the season unfolds, speculation will mount about Babcock’s future, and this will be the official statement — from both the coach and team — throughout the campaign: "We’ll address the situation after the season."
Babcock is the best coach in hockey. Everybody knows that, and at the conclusion of next season, he’ll be the NHL’s hottest unrestricted free agent.
He’s in a position of complete control, and if Babcock does decide to take his talents elsewhere, this won’t be a snub to the Wings. In fact, it will most likely be a mutual parting of ways.
The Red Wings’ lineup is getting younger by the minute, and the man most responsible for the rapid development of their young talent is Grand Rapids head coach Jeff Blashill.
He’s also in the last year of his contract and is considered one of the top young coaches in the game. He was recently voted the AHL’s outstanding coach for the 2013-14 season.
The Wings don’t want to lose Blashill, so if Babcock leaves, Blashill could very well be his replacement.
The Wings and Babcock have had tremendous run together, and despite what happens next season, he’ll always be regarded as the Wings second-best coach ever, behind Scotty Bowman.
But Babcock knows the score and was dead on when he told reporters that he can get a job.
It will likely be a job that he’ll be able pick from many suitors, so don’t be surprised if Babcock punches his ticket out of town. It could be the only time in his career when it will be completely his choice.