Mike Babcock is in his fifth season of coaching the Red Wings, so I suppose it’s about time to find out whether he can actually, you know, coach.

Don’t snicker—I’m not being flip. Since Babcock arrived in Detroit in the summer of 2005, when has he had to coach the team in the regular season like he has to at this very moment?

If the Red Wings were being overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, their threat level would be elevated a color.

This is big doings, folks. We’re closing in on 20 games remaining in the regular season, and the Red Wings haven’t been cleared for playoff flight yet.

Enter Babcock, whose mystique as a prickly, no-nonsense guy is about to be put to the test in a manner like never before in Detroit.

He should be warmed up by now. Babs has already had to parry remarks made to the press by goalie Chris Osgood about playing time. He ran Ville Leino out of town.

But those are mere morsels—hors d’oeuvres to what lies ahead.

Scotty Bowman, of course, was the granddaddy of the mind game when it comes to hockey coaches, and maybe of any coach in any sport. He didn’t need to use it very often with the Red Wings, but when he did it usually worked. Just ask Brendan Shanahan, or Luc Robitaille, or Brett Hull. Hell, ask Steve Yzerman, no less.

Babcock might be Bowman Lite, but that doesn’t mean he’s calorie-free.

The situation with Osgood has gotten the most press. Babcock has gone out of his way at times—at least it seems that way—to praise rookie Jimmy Howard in a manner that hints that he’s taking a swipe at Ozzie.

Osgood has openly questioned Babcock’s knowledge of goaltending. He’s even proclaimed himself a one man team.

“I got him to two Stanley Cup Finals,” Osgood said a few weeks ago.

I guess the 18 skaters who played in front of him were chopped liver.

But goaltending isn’t the biggest worry now. It’s scoring and protecting leads and playing 60 complete minutes on a consistent basis. It’s realizing the urgency of the situation and responding to it appropriately.

You can paraphrase Babcock himself.

Glowing about Howard recently, Babcock said, “It’s called goaltending.”

With all that Babcock has to do in order to gate-crash his team into the post-season party, you might summarize it thusly.

“It’s called coaching.”

We’re about to find out if this kid Babcock has the regular season coaching chops or not.

I suppose after five seasons, it’s time we found out.

Advertisements