You can never tell if the great hockey coach is winning or losing.
When he stands behind the bench, he always looks as if he’s trying to remember if he left the stove on—while also having to go to the bathroom.
His team could be ahead by three goals or down by two. You’d never know.
If he didn’t make a mint in hockey, Scotty Bowman could have fleeced all comers in a game of poker. Scotty didn’t smile, Scotty didn’t grin. Scotty didn’t scowl, Scotty didn’t wince.
Bowman, a legendary coach with so many Stanley Cup rings on his fingers that his hands are their own brass knuckles, had a lockjaw and the posture of a British Beefeater. It could be Game 7 of the Cup Finals and with Bowman, you’d find more emotion on a frog.
This is because Scotty’s games were played in his head while his players played them on the ice.
Mike Babcock doesn’t have the stoicism of Bowman, but you still can’t tell if his Red Wings are playing keep away with the puck or are being used as the other team’s personal Zamboni.
Babcock’s eyes narrow into slits and his head bobs back, forth, and then up to the scoreboard and then back to the left. That and he always looks like he can’t find his keys.
Babcock has the typical face of a former hockey player: chiseled, scarred, the texture of leather. His hair is unkempt and his clothes fit him like a paper doll’s.
You show me a hockey coach who’s a fashion plate and I’ll show you Don Cherry and no one else. And Don didn’t win much of anything before making a king’s ransom as a buffoon on television—the Dick Vitale of hockey.
The great hockey coach looks like he slept in his threads, and for about 45 minutes.
Babcock is a great hockey coach, and is having his greatest of seasons.
His greatest season wasn’t in 2008, when he brought the Cup back to Detroit after a five year absence. It wasn’t last year, when he nearly did it again.
His greatest season is right here, right now, guiding what was, for most of the year, a M*A*S*H unit through the rigors of an NHL campaign.
Babcock should get the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, and mainly because he never put a pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger.
The Red Wings are on the verge of making the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season, and they’ll have done it with an injury-ravaged roster that was already reeling from some free agency losses and a player vamoosing to Russia unexpectedly.
If it wasn’t so damn serious, it would have been funny. Almost all the players on the Red Wings have been lost to injuries, starting almost immediately when Johan Franzen went down with a serious knee disturbance in the first week.
This wasn’t the usual frolic through the regular season, with the divisional title wrapped up in January. The regular seasons for the Red Wings have been mostly Mai Tais in the Bahamas; this one was rice paddies and Vietnam.
General Mike Babcock led them past all the land mines and, with a team of medics trailing him, he has positioned the Red Wings for the Purple Heart.
It hasn’t just been all the injuries.
It’s been a veteran goalie who lost his job to a rookie who couldn’t have had more question marks plastered on him before the season if he was were the Riddler.
It’s been the overall improvement of the Western Conference, whose teams have reveled in kicking the Red Wings while they were down earlier in the season.
It’s been the under-achieving for most of the season of two key players who’ve managed to stay relatively healthy. Read: Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
It’s been the distraction of also coaching Team Canada in the Olympics, and the “Get Gold or ELSE” mentality that an entire country levied against Babcock and Team Canada director Steve Yzerman.
It’s been all those things, and yet here the Red Wings are, four points in front of ninth-place Calgary and nipping at the heels of as high as the fifth seed. They’re on a 10-2-1 streak when it’s counted the most.
You tell me that this hasn’t been Babcock’s best coaching job in Detroit. Hell, it’s been his best coaching job, period.
No one pacing behind an NHL bench has done more this season with less, and with as many obstacles, as Mike Babcock has done with the Red Wings. Not even close.
But here’s the punch line: he doesn’t have an ice rink’s chance in Hades of winning the damn coaching award.
They’ll give it to someone who coaches a bunch of rag tags. Coach of the Year, in every team sport, has often been code for “Least embarrassing season by a coach with little talent.”
But that’s OK. Babcock doesn’t need a Jack Adams on his mantle to validate the job he’s done this season. Nor does he care about that stuff, anyway.
The great hockey coach also knows when he has the horses to make a legitimate “kick at the can,” as they say.
Babcock knows he has the horses. He’s dropped hints during his post-game comments, putting the other teams on notice that it would be unwise to wish to play the Red Wings in the playoffs.
The great hockey coach doesn’t make excuses or let his players feel sorry for themselves. He doesn’t long for the players who aren’t available.
The great hockey coach does the best he can with what he has.
Then he kicks his opponents between the back pockets come springtime.
The smart money is still on the red numbers.