Sports is an arena where people, stars, teams, eras come and wrap us up in their rapture; we’re taken in by the experience, like a ride on a roller coaster or our first trip to Disney World. It’s a memory that we want to keep with us for the remainder of our days and that we never want to end. But inevitably, it does end. Sometimes happily. Sometimes harshly. Sometimes, somberly. But no matter what, they will always end. Detroit has seen it’s fair share of great eras throughout the various sports teams we host: the Bad Boy Pistons and Pistons of the early 2000’s; the Detroit Tigers of today; on the flip side, the Lion’s of yester-year that couldn’t buy a win in a game. All these teams have seen periods of time when they either shined bright and flourished only to falter out or were at the bottom of the barrel and rose to the zenith of their respective association as a team to be respected. Well, the Detroit Red Wings have brought Detroit more success than any of the other teams combined, often competing at the pinnacle of the NHL’s echelons and are perennial playoff contenders, having made the playoffs for the last 24 years straight (1991-2015), the longest active streak of any North American team in post season contention, and 28 out of the last 30 seasons. And for the past ten years, Mike Babcock has been at the helm of that team. But no longer.
Mike Babcock signed with the Red Wings in July of 2005 and has coached them to varying degrees of success, but success none the less. His first three seasons with the team he saw them to a 162-56-28 record in the regular season, an improvement over the 69-62-19 record he had over two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. He also lead them to a 28-18 record in the playoffs and knocked off his former team in the Western Conference Finals in 2007. In 2008, the Red Wings soared to new heights under Babcock, winning the Stanley Cup in six games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the same year, he coasted the Western Conference team during the All-Star Game and finished third for the Jack Adams award. He would be a finalist for the Jack Adams award again in 2014, but ultimately finish in second place. Ironically, it was in 2014 that he’d surpass Jack Adams as the most winning coach in Red Wings history when he won his 414 game with the Wings on April 8, 2014.
The Wings would return to the Stanley Cup final in 2009 but lose in seven games to the same Pittsburgh Penguins they defeated the year before. Nonetheless, Babcock’s Red Wings were known for their fight and their grit. A prime example would be the 2011 playoffs, when they were down to the San Jose Sharks, they won three straight games to force a game 7, that they lost 3-2, though it was a testament to their will and endurance and their coaches will to get the best out of his players. This was again exemplified on Valentines day of 2012, when the Wings set the NHL single season record for most consecutive home wins in a single season, with 21. They would then shatter the overall record with their 23rd consecutive victory against their old nemesis the San Jose Sharks (the record was held by the Boston Bruins between the 1929 and 1930 seasons). The Wings continued their tough, grind-it-out, never quit style in the 2013 season, when as a 7th seed, they defeated the number 2 seeded Anaheim Ducks in seven games, in a series that included four overtime games. They would lose in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Chicago Blackhawks, but not before giving them the fight of their lives in a seven game series, losing 2-1 in the game 7 overtime. The wings would make the playoffs again in 2014 and 2015 campaigns, but be knocked out both times in the first round.
Despite a few early post season exits and not making the Stanlely Cup finals in six years, Mike Babcock’s winning ways cannot be denied. December 6, 2014 he became the second fastest coach in NHL history to win 500 games, only behind Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, who was also a former Red Wings coach. Overall, he’s won 527 games and lost 285 losses in the regular season, 458 victories and 223 losses with the Wings. In the playoffs, he’s finished with 123 wins, 67 losses and 56 ties for Detroit. That includes to Stanley Cup Finals appearance and one Stanley Cup victory. Outside of the NHL, though, Babcock may be even more decorated. He is the only coach in the Triple Gold Club – that is, the winner of a Stanley Cup, a Olympic Gold Medal and a World Championship Gold Medal, recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF): He won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings, of course; he won a gold medal with his native team, Canda, in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi in 2010 and 2014 respectively; he won the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Gold Medal in 2004 with Canada as well.
Babcock’s credentials and passion for the game cannot be denied. He and the Red Wings failed to come to terms on a new contract with the Red Wings and was given the opportunity to explore opportunities with other teams. While the Buffalo Sabers were initially a team that looked likely to win Babcock’s coveted services, the Toronto Maple Leafs ultimately won out. Due no doubt to his decorated resume, Babcock has just been signed to the most lucrative contract of any coach in NHL history, raking in $50 million over an eight year deal (which equates to roughly $6.25 million a year), $3.25 million more than Todd McLellan of the Edmonton Oilers who was the previous highest paid coach in the league. But no one can say he hasn’t earned it. He has lead both of his previous teams to success and under him, the Red Wings have enjoyed ten years of continual success including a championship. We Detroit natives tip our hats in thanks Coach Babcock for his contributions to the team: his passion, loyalty, determination, and overall spirit will not soon be forgotten in Hockey Town. Thank you Mike Babcock. May you continue to find success in your future…just maybe not against us.