Regner: Wings’ hot start could keep Babcock in Detroit

It's easy to see why the winning-obsessed Mike Babcock's best opportunity probably is with the team he's already coaching.

Dennis Wierzbicki

When the Red Wings skate off the ice after their game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto a week from Saturday, it will mark the end of the season series between these two long-time rivals — which is a good thing.

Because over the course of the next week, the Wings and Leafs play twice, and Mike Babcock’s coaching future will once again become front and center.

In case you’ve been on an extended holiday, every blue-blooded Canadian — especially the Canadian press — wants Babcock to become the next head coach in Toronto.

So get ready Wings fans as we get bombarded from the north with commentary on why Babcock should bolt Detroit for Toronto.

Babcock’s in the final year of his deal with the Wings, and if he lets it play out, he’ll become the NHL’s most sought after free agent.

Conventional wisdom has been that he will test the open market and likely won’t be with the Wings next season.

But a funny thing has happened on Babcock’s path to free agency: The Red Wings are a lot better than anybody thought, and their future looks extremely bright.

Suddenly, what was once believed to be a foregone conclusion that Babcock is coaching out the string here is not such a sure thing.

At the start of the season, Babcock and Wings GM Ken Holland said that they wouldn’t publically discuss Babcock’s contract situation. Behind the scenes, however, a source close to the team says that Detroit is willing to make him the NHL’s highest-paid coach (more than $3 million per season) and Babcock is listening.

The source says that the length of the deal is what appears to be a major stumbling block; Babcock is playing hardball to a point where many in the Wings organization feel he’s being unreasonable.

However, if the Wings want him and Babcock wants to be here, a compromise will be reached. That’s not the issue.

The issue is, why has Babcock’s thinking about staying in Detroit changed?

It’s pretty simple. He wants to win and wants his next coaching destination to be with a team poised to compete for the Stanley Cup. He doesn’t want to be part of a major rebuilding process.

At one time, Babcock thought that the Wings were on the verge of descending into the NHL scrapheap. Heck, most in hockey figured that a major rebuild was in the Wings’ immediate future.

Yet, this team that was pegged to struggle to keep its consecutive playoff streak alive has come out of the gate quickly and is within reach of having the best record in the NHL.

There are several factors for the Wings’ hot start:

— Youngsters Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Danny DeKeyser and Luke Glendening are proving that last year’s coming-out party wasn’t an aberration

— Justin Abdelkader’s maturation has made him a force.

— Jimmy Howard has bounced back from a so-so season.

— Stephen Weiss and Darren Helm are finally healthy.

— And there’s the veteran leadership of Henrik Zetterberg, Nik Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk.

In all honesty, I could name every player on Detroit’s roster as having a significant role in the success.

But it’s not just the current roster that should have Babcock ready to re-sign. The Red Wings’ future seems even brighter, with three up-and-coming players who have star written all over them.

Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Petr Mrazek are considered high-end players, and the early returns on Mantha and Larkin are impressive.

Once you add in all of Detroit’s young defensemen — three of whom are right-handed shots — and a corps of promising young forwards, it’s easy to see why the winning-obsessed Babcock’s best opportunity probably is with the team he’s already coaching.