Emotional Mike Babcock: 'I loved it here'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — An extremely emotional Mike Babcock thanked many people associated with the Red Wings organization Friday morning in a farewell press conference in the Red Wings locker room.

Babcock broke down several times during the nearly 30-minute conference, including during an opening statement when he thanked the Ilitch family, general manager Ken Holland, front office personnel and Joe Louis Arena workers.

"It's been real special to say the least," said Babcock, his voice breaking, and pausing to catch his composure. "The Ilitches afforded me an opportunity for my family to grow up here, my kids to finish high school here, and as you can see I'm emotionally involved with the franchise and city and with the people.

"It gives me great pride for what we were able to accomplish in my 10 years here.

"It was my decision to leave. My wife wanted to make that clear, it's not on her."

Babcock, 52, signed an eight-year contract worth $50 million Wednesday to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs after spending 10 years with the Red Wings.

Babcock coached the Red Wings to the playoffs all 10 seasons here — while the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs only once during that span.

"It was my decision totally and it was about a new opportunity and a new challenge," Babcock said. "I'm very proud of the years here and the fact we developed people."

Babcock said the past few weeks were "gut-wrenching" and added it would have been easier to just be fired and move on to another organization.

"I loved it here," Babcock said. "I don't know what else to say."

Babcock and Holland met Tuesday and Wednesday with Babcock deciding he was headed to Toronto, but his feeling for the Red Wings organization very much apparent.

"(Tuesday night) I had made my decision, and I talked to my wife and my kids before I went to bed," Babcock said. "My daughter left a (school) project until the last minute and the printer went off at 3:30 (a.m.) in the next room. I was wide awake.

"I stayed up for the next three hours, texted Kenny in the morning and I asked if I could come and see him."

Staying or leaving the Red Wings didn't sound as if it was an easy decision at all for Babcock, who had about two weeks to gauge interest around the NHL for his services.

"I went back and forth 100 times," Babcock said. "I probably wore Kenny out being a pain the butt. I know I wore my family out. (But) as emotional as it is right now for me, I said it (Thursday in Toronto) I felt like I was 25. I was jacked up and scared to death.

"We'll see. Only time will tell, but I believe you put your foot on the gas and you go get it. That's what we're going to do."

Babcock feels the Red Wings are situated in a good place going forward because of the determined young players on their roster.

Holland and Babcock traveled to Prague for the world championships and scouted forward Dylan Larkin (Waterford/Michigan), the Red Wings' first-round pick who Thursday signed with the organization.

"He's (Larkin) a heckuva of a player," Babcock said. "I'm jealous already because Luke Glendening and Helmer (Darren Helm) and (Danny) DeKeyser and Abby (Justin Abdelkader), those guys are everydayers, they are all in."

As for the money, Babcock insisted it wasn't an overriding factor.

"Is it about money? Sure it's about money," Babcock said. "But there was enough money in every place. It didn't have a factor in the decision."

If, as expected, the Red Wings will name Jeff Blashill the next head coach, Babcock said it would be the correct decision.

Blashill is the minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins head coach, and has coached most of the current Red Wings roster.

Blashill was also an assistant under Babcock for one season, before coaching Grand Rapids for the last three seasons.

"He's a good man, smart," Babcock said. "He has put in his time and he treats people good. He's demanding. He's a good hockey man. I consider him a friend."

Babcock ended the press conference with similar emotion to when he started.

"I'm indebted forever to the Ilitches and Mr. Holland and to the players, to the captains I had here, unbelievable men," Babcock said. "It's been special. Thank you."