When the Detroit Red Wings reportedly struck out on target after target during the early days of free agency, it signaled a few things. The first is that Detroit is no longer the free-agent haven it once was as the salary cap has evened the playing field, but as others speculated, it might be who the head coach is that is to blame for certain players shying away.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is known for being a brilliant coach, but he's also known for his intense, hard-nosed approach that can rub some players the wrong way. During a radio interview with Detroit Sports 105.1 on Thursday, Babcock addressed those rumors and his future with the club quite candidly and bluntly:
"If you don't want to be coached, don't come here," Babcock told hosts Ryan and Rico. "If you want to be pushed to be the best that you can be, that's what we do here. The proof is in the pudding.
"Am I warm and cuddly every day? I am with my family.
"I think I care a lot about my players. When you care about people, you make them do it right. When you don't and there's lots of coaches that don't, then their teams don't do it right and they don't have success.
"We just have the hard meetings. We get it out front. Does it piss people off once in a while? Absolutely. But it also leads to behavioral changes and getting things better. So you know what, I'm not apologizing for that stuff at all."
And really, he shouldn't apologize. Babcock has a Stanley Cup title, two Olympic gold medals, and has somehow never won a Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. He'll hit 500 wins as an NHL head coach next season and has worked with a litany of NHL superstars over his career. The track record is as good as any active coach, it would seem.
Coaches like Babcock may also be contending with changing times and mentalities. There seems to be more of a culture of entitlement and there are individuals who don't deal well with being challenged. That said, if that's the attitude certain players will have (and that's not to suggest those that turned the Red Wings down this summer are like this), then they probably won't fit and their careers probably don't last too long either.
The point remains, the Red Wings didn't bring in new bodies that will help them next season and that puts more pressure on Babcock to get more out of the group he has. He feels the parity of the league under the salary cap is more to blame than himself.
Babcock noted that the team targeted some defensemen in free agency, but was unable to sign any of them. Reports had the Red Wings linked to pitches to Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle and Anton Stralman, among others. All signed elsewhere within the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings also missed out on Ryan Suter two summers ago despite a reportedly fervent pitch, but did manage to bring in Daniel Alfredsson last summer as a top unrestricted free agent.
Babcock also sounded rather miffed about the sources of reports and rumors flying about the perception that players don't want to come play for him.
"I think it's easy to stand on the sidelines and second-guess everything all the time and I think that's what you get paid to do and the more controversy you can create in the media, the more they like you and the more bloggers we have, the more controversy we have, but that's all part of the sport," he said. "What I've found is if the people in the hockey department make the decisions, we're employed. When we start looking for answers in the media, then we'll be in the media soon."
Babcock also mused about his as-yet-unresolved contract negotiations as he heads into the last year of his deal.
"Maybe [free agents] don't want to come because Mike Babcock has a one-year contract," he said. "If [the Red Wings] are concerned about [free agents not liking him], then I should coach somewhere else."
That particular soundbite doesn't sound very forgiving, but Babcock also stated that he liked being in Detroit and loves the organization's commitment to winning. He also called his relationship with general manager Ken Holland "second to none."
So will he return to Detroit?
Babcock told reporters earlier in the week that he would only discuss a new contract during the summer and if nothing is resolved by the beginning of the 2014-15 season, he would halt negotiations until the season is complete.
It will be an interesting summer as that negotiation plays out, particularly if it stretches past next season. The line for teams hoping to bring Babcock in should he leave Detroit would be extremely long, so there's a lot of leverage for the head coach at this point.
During the interview, Babcock also addressed the health of center Henrik Zetterberg, the controversial contract doled out to Daniel Cleary (which Babcock called "great"), his players' work with renowned trainer and new reality show star Mike Barwis and why he doesn't like to golf. He really didn't hold back, it seemed. You can listen to the full segment here.
(h/t Kukla's Korner)