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Do Ken Holland and Mike Babcock disagree about personnel? Yes, and they like it that way.

I don't usually transcribe radio interviews, but TMR readers have an incredibly regular argument, I mean flame war, I mean debate, as to whether Red Wings GM Ken Holland and Mike Babcock all but come to blows regarding player personnel, and I'm happy to say that Babcock resolved that issue while speaking with The Fan 590's Greg Brady and Jim Lang, he addressed that issue directly:

(oh hey, by the way, I always check the "download" option when I am uploading audio [most SoundCloud users forget it's there], so feel free to download the audio and use it as you wish).

This starts around the 5:35 mark:

Greg Brady: I'm fascinated by the, the entire, not just your team, but the GM-coach dynamic. How do you describe, frankly, your working relationship with Ken Holland? You're both champions of your sport, you wouldn't agree on every player's single...value, or where they should be use...Does it get interesting? Are there excited discussions, do voices get raised...It can kind of fun at the end of it, can't it?

Mike Babcock: Oh, for sure, you know, I was laughing the other day, I hadn't looked at a Hockey News in forever, and I was at my dad's place in Saskatoon, and I flip it open, and it goes to the Red Wings, and it says, "Lots of disagreement over players last year between Ken Holland and Mike Babcock," and my dad looks at me, "Isn't that every year?" and I said, "Every year, every day."

That's the process. Everybody's got your own opinion. And that's what makes you better; if you're the same, why would you hire someone the same as you?

The other thing about it is...Uncomfortable meetings, when you go to a meeting--and this is in any business--and nobody really tells anybody anything, nobody steps on anybody's toes...You leave the meeting, and everyone talks behind somebody's back.

When you go to a meeting, and you deal with the facts, in an uncomfortable situation, when you leave, everything's looked after.

I'd much rather it be that way. Ken and I have a great relationship. If we pretend for one second that we agree all the time, that's just not the case, but I can tell you this: we make each other a lot better.

Brady: Is that harder for a younger GM, veteran...We have that here with Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle; I'm just curious. If you have a vet GM and a young coach, the young coach trying to prove something; it's got to be a lot easier to do when both guys have been there, done that, doesn't it?

Babcock: That may be, but I would say to you, confident...You don't get to where these guys are without being confident people. Confident people have opinions, and they're willing to share them.

That doesn't mean when Kenny Holland has a better idea than I do...

We go with Kenny Holland, it makes no difference. And that could be travel, scheduling, on players, and lots of times he's got thoughts on players I never thought of, and vice versa.

I don't think that's necessarily because we're both veteran guys who've been around for a long time. I had great debates with Bryan Murray in Anaheim, and he was a veteran guy who'd been in the game, in the NHL for 25 years and I'd just arrived, but we had the same kind of...Debates, back and forth, and I thought it was real healthy back then as well.

Babcock spends the first half of his interview discussing the Canadian Olympic orientation camp and the difference that "big ice" makes. After addressing the Holland-Babcock dynamic, he talks about the celebrity/alumni game at the Red Wings' training camp in Traverse City.

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There were never really any actual debates about this issue though, George.  The people that hate Holland blamed him for every mistake and held Babcock blameless.  The people that hate Babcock blamed him for every mistake and held Holland blameless.

The dynamic in which the decisions are actually made was nothing more than the Deus Ex Machina which either group of people employed as necessary to ‘support’ their position.

I don’t think I’ve seen (m)any people actually posit that the organization was a top down command structure from Holland’s office or a bottom up one from Babcock’s absent the presence of the detonation of a digital incendiary in the vicinity of one guy or the other.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/30/13 at 10:44 AM ET

TreKronor's avatar

There were never really any actual debates about this issue though, George.

That would be incorrect.  There have been a number of debates on this. 

Controversy, especially within leadership, is important and necessary.  Problem is, when the outside world (mostly the media) views any sort of controversy, they freak out that management isn’t getting along (example: circa post-2012 playoffs when Babs said he wanted a physical player).

Posted by TreKronor on 08/30/13 at 11:51 AM ET


There have been a number of debates on this. 

There have been a number of debates which used this issue as a shiv.  There have been no debates on whether there was a collaborative or a totalitarian system in place in Detroit, because everyone knows by now that there is, and that people don’t always agree on any or everything.

What has happened in the past is that when a decision was made which someone didn’t like, or an outcome occurred someone was unsatisfied with, that decision was pinned on the person in the organization the commentor also didn’t like.

When the team wasn’t using younger players enough to satisfy people, the ones that didn’t like Babcock blamed him for not using the ones he had, or they blamed Holland for not calling the ones they liked up if they didn’t like Holland.  You never saw the comment ‘the Wings as an organization prefer to use more seasoned players rather than inexperienced young player when reasonable and neither Babcock nor Holland seek to change this.’  It was always one guys fault or the other.  If only the other guy would just see reason!

When the offense struggles or the defense struggles or the special teams struggle or player x struggles it is always either Babcock isn’t using the guy correctly, he should have this role with these linemates if the didn’t like Babcock, or it was Holland didn’t build the team correctly, shouldn’t have signed the guy, didn’t sign enough of this or that kind of guy.  Occasionally the player himself is blamed… but there are only usually 2 or 3 players on the roster in any given year who are treated this way.  All the rest are largely exempted from serious criticism.  Next year, for instance, Franzen, Samuelsson and maybe one or two other guys will fall into this category.

This is because the Wings are a professionally run organization and they aren’t going to pants their upper management by leaking who was responsible for the dumb ideas, while they do all share credit for the successes.  This is what smart teams do because it defuses internal strife.  It makes it impossible for fans to yell at the right person, but that’s a positive to an internet commentariat that eschews overmuch information rather than a drawback.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/30/13 at 12:17 PM ET

TreKronor's avatar

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/30/13 at 12:17 PM ET

You have a lot of free time, no?

Posted by TreKronor on 08/30/13 at 12:28 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I’ve had plenty of great discussions with people on the nuances of the GM/Coach relationship in Detroit in which the particular credit/blame for a wide variety of topics has been discussed, during which a separation of those two positions and their desires as professionals have been at the heart and in which both sides weren’t struggling to place 100% of the blame one way or another.

I’ve also watched plenty of other people have conversations like that.

I guess it all depends on the perspective of the reader to decide whether they view everybody else as thoughtless baboons incapable of seeing anything resembling a shade of gray though.  I could see how somebody who wouldn’t be bothered with actually caring what others think could have such a reductive and insulting view of people he doesn’t consider peers.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/30/13 at 03:21 PM ET

gowings's avatar


Thanks for this post! This is stuff I really like, especially since I live in Mtl. I don’t have to navigate the net to find it

Posted by gowings from MTL on 08/30/13 at 06:06 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.