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Holland: Wings prepared to move on

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The franchise isn't folding.

That's the message from general manager Ken Holland regarding the decision of Mike Babcock to leave and accept the head coaching position of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Babcock accepted an eight-year contract worth $50 million — a $6.25 million average — in Toronto and will be introduced as the new Maple Leafs coach Thursday morning.

"Mike made the decision he wants to be in Toronto," Holland said. "Sometimes change is good if I can make the right decision. Mike will say it's a different challenge and different opportunity, and we're the same.

"We had 10 great years. After a process, Mike decided to go somewhere else. I'm not going to fold the franchise. We'll go to work and we'll try to beat Mike."

Holland made it clear he could not offer a longer term than four or five years.

The Red Wings last offer was believed to be five years worth $20 million ($4 million per season).

"I know it was a difficult decision for him, he had roots here, he's been here for 10 years," Holland said. "His family has roots here. You get close to the players. I know it was a difficult decision but, in the end of the day, he made a decision that he felt was best for him and now I have decisions to make and our goal is to beat Mike.

"I'd like to thank Mike for 10 fabulous years."

Holland and Babcock spent an hour meeting Tuesday, and then spent another hour talking Wednesday morning.

Holland wasn't surprised by the offer Babcock received from Toronto.

"Anytime you're an unrestricted free agent, in the prime of your career, there's going to be opportunities that will probably stagger you," Babcock said. "I'm happy for Mike. Mike gave Red Wings fans, our organization, ten fabulous years. I loved working with Mike."

Holland said the list to replace Babcock will be short, maybe two or three names at the most.

The leading candidates appear to be Jeff Blashill, the current head coach at minor league affiliate Grand Rapids, with Grand Haven native Dan Bylsma, the former coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Byslma's Penguins defeated Babcock's Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals) a possible long shot.

But Blashill, with his familiarity with the Red Wings' personnel, and given the fact he's coached the Griffins to a Calder Cup in 2013 and Grand Rapids currently in the AHL Western Conference Finals, has a huge edge.

Holland wants Blashill — who was also an assistant coach for a season under Babcock — to focus on the AHL playoffs for now, but does want to meet with him soon.

"He seems to have something. He wins wherever he goes," said Holland, noting Blashill's success at Western Michigan, in junior hockey, and with the Griffins. "He wins. Why does he win? When I look at Mike Babcock, I see similarities in Jeff. Making players accountable. A tremendous work ethic. Passion. Having a plan. He has experience."