Mike Babcock Deserves The Jack Adams Award

Regardless of what happens as the NHL playoffs play out this year, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock should win the Jack Adams Award.  The award, bestowed annually to the NHL coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success” represents more than simply a “coach of the year” award.  In the case of Mike Babcock’s 2009-2010 Red Wings, it signifies a true dedication on Babcock’s part to the sport and to the franchise that hired him.

When Mike Babcock came to the Red Wings organization as their head coach in 2005 most “experts” felt he’d have an easy time.  After all, he inherited a team loaded with stars used to supreme success.  Babcock didn’t care about that.  He demanded a buy-in to his system.  He demanded his players to compete and to be prepared.  It didn’t matter who you were on that roster, if you didn’t give it 110 percent you weren’t going to play.  No excuses, just compete and be prepared for your next opponent. 

Babcock’s message and mantra have made him an excellent coach wherever he has been.  This year, though, he was challenged as a coach like never before in his NHL tenure.

Before this season began the Red Wings lost several key players to free agency.  The defection of Marion Hossa (traitor), Mikael Samuelson, Juri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky and goaltender Ty Conklin meant 88 goals from the previous season were lost and goaltending might be a challenge.  The Red Wings did little in the off season to make up for that shortfall, signing players like Jason Williams, Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller and Brad May.  The Wings knew they weren’t going to make up for those 88 goals with those signings, but they hoped those players would contribute to a more defensive style of play.

The season began with a flurry of major injuries to the Wings starting lineup.  Johan Franzen went down in the first week with an ACL tear.  Defenseman Nicholas Kronwall went down with a sprained left MCL after a dirty hit by Georges Laraque, Valterri Filppula broke his wrist, Jason Williams broke his leg and defenseman Andreas Lilja had yet to play a game all season due to post concussion issues.  Tomas Holmstrom broke his foot in practice and Dan Cleary separated his shoulder.  Jonathon Eriksson suffered a deep bone bruise, Henrick Zetterberg separated his shoulder, and Pavel Datsyuk also had to deal with shorter-term issues throughout the first half of the season.  Late in the season Kirk Maltby underwent shoulder surgery to repair a long standing problem.  Piled on top of all those long-term injuries, goaltender Chris Osgood, after taking his team to game seven in the Finals the season before, started the season like he was lost.  He couldn’t find his rhythm and was replaced by rookie net minder Jimmy Howard early in the season.

At one point the team was missing nine starters from their lineup at the same time!

It’s a good thing the Red Wings are a quality organization.  In the absence of so many key starters they were able to reach down into their farm system and bring in the likes of Mattias Ritola, Logan Pyett, Doug Janik and Jakub Kindl to fill the void.  While the Red Wings certainly weren’t the NHL team most were used to, they held their own, and when the Olympic break came around, they were within site of the playoff picture.

During that span of two months, Mike Babcock never made excuses.  He stayed within his game plan of being competitive and being prepared.  Interview after interview, when he could have folded, he stayed true to his coaching methods and beliefs.  He took the tools he had and molded them into a team that competed in every game and found ways to win.  Instead of looking for excuses, Mike dug in and made every game count.  The experience gained by those who came up from Grand Rapids as replacements was invaluable to those players and the franchise.  The way the remaining starters stepped up their game and contributed proved Ken Holland’s offseason moves to be wise.  The fans stayed true as you’d expect and a real excitement buzzed around Hockeytown once again.

All because Mike Babcock is one hell of a coach that pulled it all together seamlessly.

As the injured players began making their way back into the lineup, the Red Wings fought for their playoff lives.  The Wings aren’t used to trying to secure a playoff spot in March.  It’s normal for players returning to the lineup to take awhile to get their timing back.  With the new challenge of overtaking those in the standings ahead of them, Mike Babcock simply threw his team into a different gear and they finished the regular season with the best record since the Olympic break and made the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season.  No, they didn’t win the President’s Trophy and they didn’t win the Western Conference.  They also didn’t win their division like they’re used to.  But they did show the NHL world that they are once again strong contenders to win the Stanley Cup for the 12th time.

This has been a rollercoaster ride of a season for everyone who follows the Red Wings.  But this season has shown that along with the rise of a future all star goaltender in Jimmy Howard, we also were treated to coach Babcock coming into his own as not a coach that inherited greatness, but one who creates and expects it.  And that, in a nutshell, was what Jack Adams was all about.

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