Wings coach Babcock leaves future open to speculation

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — They had a nice 21/2-hour drive from Detroit, and they had a good chat.

Nothing was signed, nor was that expected.

Here to watch the Griffins in the deciding Game 5 against the Toronto Marlies, with Maple Leafs general manager Brendan Shanahan in the building, Mike Babcock and Ken Holland made it all sound a lot more like a scouting trip.

And that makes a lot of sense, if you think about it.

With Toronto media in the scrum, both men took several minutes each, between the second and third periods, to answer the question on the minds of much of the hockey world: Where will Babcock coach in the NHL, next season.

"Obviously, we had a good conversation today, and we'll have another one after," Babcock said of their plans to return to the Detroit area Sunday.

"It's fun to see the kids play. They're playing hard right now.

"Ideally, we get a win, and we get to watch them play again, then."

Indeed, the Griffins did get a win, 3-1, to win the series, 3 games to two, after being down 2-0.

Holland and Babcock plan to be back in Grand Rapids this week. And then, both are likely to go to Europe, where many NHL players and hopefuls are competing for the World Championship in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Asked if his presence at the Griffins game means he is likely to sign with the Wings, Babcock again cautioned against reading much of anything into his actions or statements.

"We've got player meeting tomorrow and next week," he said, about his continuing routine as head coach of the team.

"I plan on going to the worlds to watch (Dylan) Larkin, coming up," he said of the outstanding Michigan freshman, who is property of the Wings and must make a choice about whether to continue playing with Red Berenson or coming to the AHL with the Griffins next season.

"So, it's business as usual. And we'll see where everything plays.

"But I'm here watching because it's my job."

Holland reiterated that he would like Babcock's situation decided this month.

"We talked a lot about our team," Holland said of the ride. "This team, and Detroit.

"And we're going to talk, again, next week."

Jokingly asked if he was seeking to keep Shanahan from Babcock, Holland chuckled, and played along.

"Yeah, I see Shanny's over there," he said, pointing to the opposite corner of the rink. "Yeah, yeah."

Babcock said he would like to see the USA and Canada both play at least twice in the International Ice Hockey Federation tournament.

He made clear that Larkin is of particular interest.

"We'll see if he's ready or staying in school," Babcock said. "I don't know the answer to any of those questions."

Both men said that another highly prized Wings prospect, Anthony Mantha, has had a trying first year in the AHL. Both said he will have to put in a summer of hard work in the gym.

"I think Anthony's going through some adversity," Holland said. "He's obviously got some great assets, and now he's going to have to learn to improve in the areas that the NHL says he needs to improve on."