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Wing man

Detroit looking to reward Babcock with long-term deal

Posted: Friday January 25, 2008 7:30PM; Updated: Saturday January 26, 2008 2:02AM
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Mike Babcock has brought a new attitude to the Red Wings in his 2 seasons in Detroit.
Mike Babcock has brought a new attitude to the Red Wings in his 2 seasons in Detroit.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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ATLANTA -- A coaches' roundtable took place in the belly of Phillips Arena on Friday night -- a mild, made-for media event to kick off the mild, made-for media All-Star weekend.

The roundtable was full of good-natured, rarely revealing exchanges -- no one's campaigning here. Discussion of things like the league's too-long regular season (cut it back to 70 games, says Sharks coach Ron Wilson, a Western Conference assistant) and pressing issues such as just how to get All-Star players rest during All-Star weekend were occasionally punctuated by guys making witty comments, such as when the Thrashers' Don Waddell (an Eastern Conference assistant) observed that all NHL coaches deserved to be paid more money.

"I agree totally," said the Red Wings' Mike Babcock, coach of the Western Conference, after the roundtable was done, "and I think they need someone to set a new [high salary] mark."

Babcock, who has the NHL coaching ranks' best hairdo (a wavy, rust-colored art piece that curls neatly about the ears) was jokingly alluding to himself. He's in his third season in Detroit and is a cinch to again win the Western Conference as he did in each of the last two years. He's also nearing the end of his contract -- he has an option for next season -- which means he's starting to think about an extension. "I'd like to coach in Detroit for the rest of my career," said Babcock. "If they want me."

They do. Detroit general manager Ken Holland told SI.com on Friday that he hopes to work out a long-term deal with Babcock by March -- which would be a wise move. Babcock, who went to the Stanley Cup finals with the Ducks in 2003, has turned the Red Wings into a grittier and more menacing team than they were under previous coach Dave Lewis, and Holland likes the work Babcock has done in developing young players such as centers Valterri Filppula and Jiri Hudler.

Another thing that makes Babcock so effective, and so appealing to an employer, is his constant balancing of short-and long-term goals. Even as he got the Wings tuned up for a Wednesday night game against the defending champion Ducks -- Detroit won 2-1, banging all the way -- he also used the game to learn something for down the road. Babcock kept pitting Johan Franzen, who has emerged as the Wings' shutdown defensive forward, against the Ducks dangerous All-Star Ryan Getzlaf. The point isn't just that Franzen kept Getzlaf scoreless, but that Babcock recognized and seized the opportunity to build his team, aware that the Wings and Ducks could well battle come the postseason May.

After going on for a while about Babcock's various attributes, Holland said simply: "And really, you judge a coach by his record." Babcock is 145-45-25 in the regular season with Detroit; last year he took the Wings to Game 6 of the conference finals even though they were missing two key defenseman. This, Red Wings fans, could be one long extension.