Krupa: Babcock's coaching savvy will be missed

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — I thought he would stay and that, regardless, it would never be the Maple Leafs.

Being wrong about Mike Babcock and the moribund NHL franchise in Toronto makes me realize that the attraction of new challenges compared to old chores often rules the day, and that a lot of money and the potential for an even greater place in the national folklore that is hockey in Canada are honorable prizes.

Mike Babcock is gone. Personally, I will miss covering him.

Intelligence and enormous skill made for great interest in what the Red Wings were doing, and good copy.

I will always feel that at least two of the playoff berths in the past three seasons, since the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, were enormous accomplishments for a coach, as well as the team, and resulted much from Babcock's toils.

Seeing him flash that bird of prey scowl of his from behind the bench of another team will feel odd.

Covering him at both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics made me realize he is a god in Canada.

And, for good reason.

When his then Mighty Ducks stunned the hockey world and swept the 2003 Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, much was said about goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere.

Wind beneath their wings

But, so much of that was Babcock.

The way Canadian national teams at all levels now concentrate on smothering defense to produce an increasing number of victories in international competition is a phenomenon bearing the indelible Babcock stamp.

He has raised nationalistic hockey hopes, and filled Canadians with pride.

Now, he sees honor in five to eight seasons of trying to bring the ideal of Anglophone Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs, to their first Stanley Cup since 1967.

But, beyond the money, there is more motivation.

When his shopping tour began a few weeks ago, his judgment on the Red Wings was ever clearer. He likely reached it somewhere between January, when he had helped push a roster in transition to the top of the Eastern Conferernce, and late March, when they nearly fell out of the playoffs.

And then came the third first-round elimination in four years, and his defeated, nearly dejected appearances before the media after Game 7.

He tried very hard, here, to match the aging portions of a former, perennial Stanley Cup contender with the growth-from-within concept for rebuilding an NHL franchise in the salary cap era.

And, at times, he reveled in the job. I think he really did like coaching the kids, and hoping it would all work out one more time for Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.

But to try it again for a fourth time, beginning next season, must have begun to feel like that old definition of insanity.

And Babcock never struck anyone as someone who would try and fail, repeatedly.

Now, as the denizens of Hockeytown look on, Steve Yzerman assembles perhaps the best young team in the game and Brendan Shanahan walks off with the best coach, Babcock is gone, too.

It may feel odd. But it makes some sense.