The Malik Report
Mike Babcock reflects upon the Red Wings’ season on WBBL: Wings need top-6 forward, d-man to succeed
by George Malik on 05/28/11 at 01:07 AM ET
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock spoke to WBBL’s “Huge Show’s” Bill Simonson on Friday evening, discussing the Wings’ playoff run, Brian Rafalski’s retirement and the roster tweaks to come.
Babcock believes that injuries caught up to the Wings in their series against the Sharks, and while he suggests that the Wings’ core remains strong and that the team’s still a Cup contender, he believes that the team needs to both replace Brian Rafalski with a top-pair defenseman, and, unlike Ken Holland, Babcock believes that the Wings must bring in another top-six forward to get over the playoff hump.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Bill Simonson: We did want to check in with the Wings’ head coach, Mike Babcock, one of the great guys, he’s like the bench king, he knows hockey, he’s also on the Huge Show, how are you doing Michael?
Mike Babcock: I’m doing great, how are you doing, man?
Simonson: Good. Off-season a little bit early, looking back on the season now, Mike, catching your breath, your thoughts on what the Wings did?
Babcock: Well, I thought we, you know, we had another 100-plus points, I thought, third in the West, I thought we played hard in the playoffs, and played well, it was the best segment of our year for sure. You know, obviously, just like everybody else, I was disappointed to lose Game 7, but I was very impressed with how hard our team played, how competitive we were. I thought we really missed the Mule in the playoffs; we really only had him for a couple of games, and then he never ever could skate; even in the end, in Game 7, I thought the losses of Cleary and Bert hurt us. And yet, in saying that, our team played hard, and I thought we really pushed San Jose. I was disappointed to watch hockey after that, obviously, we feel we’re a good enough team that had a chance to win the Cup. In the end, you’ve got to get it to line up for you, and I always believe that, at playoff time, injuries are key.
Simonson: I think the one positive, the most important thing, Mike, that I take from what the Wings did: a), I agree with you, the comeback from being down 3-0, and how I love that they never quit, and you’re partially responsible for that, and also the intestinal fortitude of the players…but the maturation of Jimmy Howard, from a year ago to this year, that has to make you feel pretty comfortable moving forward with the Wings.
Babcock: There’s no question you need a goalie, and Howie looks like he’s a goalie, not just for a year, but for a long time, and you know, it’s a commitment to getting better, and the mental toughness to keep doing it year after year. I expect he has that, and I like the way he approaches things. the other thing that I liked is that, I think the core of our team is still young. I like the growth of Helm and Abdelkader, I thought they were real factors for us at playoff time, and just overall, I like our group moving ahead. Obviously, Rafalski retired, so there’s gonna be changes there, there will be changes on our club; Kenny Holland and I will spend, and Jimmy Nill will spend a ton of time on that and try to make the best decisions moving forward so that we’re a deeper, better team.
Simonson: Rafalski’s retirement announcement, when eh called and told you, or he called and told Kenny Holland, did that surprise you, Mike?
Babcock: Ah, maybe momentarily, but this happened two-and-a-half months ago, or something like that, now…We knew he was going to retire. We’d actually, as a coaching staff, talked about the fact that he’d, he couldn’t be healthier, he wasn’t having much fun playing hurt, like…Raffi’s a guy who relied on his legs. He’s a great player, very intelligent, but relied on his skating, and he moves the puck so well, he got hit more in the last two years than he’s ever been hit just because of his back and of his knee. It’s not much fun laying on the injury table every year, just so you can get out and go to practice. You don’t want to practice, but you feel like you have to because you want to play better, and yet, every time you go on the ice you’re hurting yourself more. That’s a tough way to make a living.
Simonson: Looking at your roster, who are guys, Mike, that you want to see more out of?
Babcock: Well, that’s a really good question, you know…I think we got a lot out of our people at playoff time, I think, maximized things. We’ll see what happens over the next while. I think that, with the situation we’re in, with the cap, with the situation we are with the age of players, I think there’ll be changes on our team.
Simonson: Jim Nill, Kenny Holland, yourself; when you sit down and you talk about changes, because those can be tough, it can be financial, with the NHL’s salary cap, it can be age, it can be where you’re at in terms of depth on your bench…When you sit in that room and you have to make these tough decisions, how hard is that?
Babcock: It’s very hard, but it’s about trying to make the right decision to help the Red Wings win, and as much as that’s personal on an individual level, because it affects people’s lives, it has to do with a much greater cause, and that’s the Red Wings, and that’s how we go about our business, that’s what they pay us to do, make tough decisions.
Simonson: Mike, what do the Wings need, the most important thing that you think’s missing from making this team a Stanley Cup champion again?
Babcock: We need, uh…Uh, a top-six D, or a top-two D, to replace Rafalski; we need a top-six forward to give our guys opportunity, and that’s all we need. The rest, the rest we can work out through, with what we have, but we could use a top-six forward and we could use a top, a high-end D.
Simonson: Nick Lidstrom, your gut on Nick coming back for one final year?
Babcock: He’ll be back.
Simonson: He told you he’s coming back?
Simonson: Well you just, you feel it, right?
Babcock: Well, you just asked me what my gut said, I just told ya. The bottom line is he’s too good to quit and our team’s too good to quit.
Simonson: Well I love what you guys did, Mike, you know, that comeback, and before I let you go, when you guys were down 3-0, and how you came back, and the energy and atmosphere from Game 6 into the anticipation of Game 7, on the road, and then how they scrapped after a tough first period, and now how Howard would keep them in the game, and they had a shot to score four goals in the second, and it’s just a bounce of the puck, and being in the right place at the right time…It felt like that was the Stanley Cup finals, it really did, and it was a Game 7, and there was something on the line that night.
Babcock: Well, I would just say to you, it was a heck of a series. We were down 3-0 but we felt that we’d played way better than that. I don’t think we come back unless we feel we’re better than that. Our guys were committed to just finding a way to win. I thought we did that real well. You know, the bottom line for me is, is, what I ask our guys to do is lay it out there, and I thought they did that, and so, to me as a coach, that’s what you ask for. I think it’s important that, as a management team this summer, we do everything we can to help the group. We want to win the Cup; we think we’re of the age and the skill set and the drive to do that, you know, it’s…It’s tough watching this hockey right now, because you think you were good enough, that’s the toughest to watch, I, it was easier for me to watch last year than it was this year. Sometimes that opportunity that got away on you, is a driving force for you the following year. The league’s very very tight, our focus will be, like always, we’ve got to make the playoffs and see what happens.
Simonson: I agree with you on Franzen, what you said at the start of this conversation, that if he’s healthy, you guys are still playing, that’s my take.
Babcock: That’s my take, too, but he wasn’t, and that’s the playoffs. If you go through it, in 07, we lost Schneider and Kronwall; in 09 we lost Datsyuk; when you go through it, any way you look at it ,when you’re not healthy, when you don’t get fortunate with the injuries, you’re not as good. Now Vancouver’s done an unbelievable job—they’ve lost Ehrhoff and Rome, they lost Samuelsson, they’ve lost Malhotra—now they didn’t lose them for all the time, but their acquisitions at the deadline, managing their cap, where they picked up Higgins and Laperriere, has really given them an opportunity to win The cap’s got to be right so you can do that, and it doesn’t happen every year, but they look like they’re the team to beat at this point.
Simonson: Mike, the last gathering of the Wings, whether it was in that locker room after Game 7, on the plane, whether it was when you guys got back to Detroit, what did you say to the Wings?
Babcock: Thank you. That’s all, basically, thank you. Now Ken Holland basically runs the last meeting of the year, and it’s on picture day, and some of those meetings are very, very happy, and some of them are disappointing. This year we were very very pleased with our group. We were disappointed in the result. We talked about our opportunity next year, and getting off to a good start, but basically, we thanked our players and their contributions to our organization, how hard they played, and we were proud of them.
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