Wings coach Babcock coy about future with Toronto media

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Toronto — Coach Mike Babcock could be the league's most sought-after free agent next summer and the Maple Leafs would love to get him.

There have been several stories in the local newspapers about the possibility of Babcock becoming the Maple Leafs coach next summer. That organization now headed by former Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan, who played for Babcock.

Anticipating an avalanche of questions about his coaching future after Friday's morning skate, a Red Wings media relations representative reminded a large gathering of reporters that Babcock has stated he is not answering questions about his coaching future during the regular season.

But that didn't stop at least one Toronto reporter from asking about his "situation" as the media briefing was concluding.

"My situation is that I love my wife and my kids," Babcock said, before breaking into a smile and walking away.

General manager Ken Holland and Babcock have agreed to keep any negotiations or discussion about the contract out of the media.

Babcock, 51, has won a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals, among other career highlights, and likely would command more than the $2.7 million currently earned by Chicago's Joel Quenneville, the league's highest-paid coach.

Babcock said he is comfortable having this negotiation head into the offseason and has indicated he'd like to continue coaching in Detroit.

But as the season progresses and some coaching vacancies develop — Toronto's Randy Carlyle appears destined to be terminated unless the Maple Leafs make a long playoff run — Babcock's future will continue to be monitored and analyzed.

Defense shuffling

The Red Wings shuffled their defense pairings in the first half of Friday night's 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs.

Jonathan Ericsson dropped down to pair with Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith moved up to join Niklas Kronwall on the top pair, and Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey became the second pair.

Babcock said the shuffling was due mainly to the ineffectiveness of Kronwall and Ericsson.

"We hadn't been thrilled with Kroner and E together and we wanted to move them around," Babcock said. "Then E played the way he can, and we put them back (the second half of the game)."

Day off helped

Justin Abdelkader, who sat out practice Thursday, participated in the morning skate and played against the Maple Leafs.

Babcock left open the possibility of Stephen Weiss taking Abdelkader's spot after the morning skate, but Abdelkader was ready to go.

"I had a maintenance day yesterday but it felt good being out there on the ice today and I'm ready," said Abdelkader, who was hurt in Wednesday's loss to Boston. "Just a little tweak, a little something, but I feel better now. It was nice to have the maintenance day and I feel better."

Abdelkader has been a key member of the penalty-killing unit, which which is 10-for-10 over the first three games.

Abdelkader credited assistant coach Tony Granato with altering the structure of the unit.

"We're maybe a little more aggressive up ice," Abdelkader said,. "We're just being smarter when we're being aggressive and not running out of position. We're picking our spots when to be aggressive and when to stay back."

Maple Leafs at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: This Original Six rivalry caps a home-and-home weekend with a game at Joe Louis Arena. ... Why no Saturday "Hockey Night in Canada" game in Toronto? Because Fleetwood Mac has a concert in the Air Canada Centre.