The NHL's free agent frenzy has begun with head coach Mike Babcock as the headliner.
The Detroit Red Wings have given him permission to talk to other NHL teams about coaching opportunities in a window that is open until May 25. That doesn't guarantee he is leaving Detroit, just that he is exploring his options.
"If there is a better situation out there for Mike Babcock, he's earned the right to explore that," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told reporters on Friday. "We made a contract offer to Mike last June and couldn't find a solution. I went to him again in January and made another contract extension offer, and Mike felt, at that point in time, that he appreciated the offer but wanted to wait until the end of the year. That was the only conversation that we really had this winter.
"When we went to Grand Rapids (last weekend), spent four hours together in the car, we had a great talk. I told Mike that we'd like to re-sign him, we want him back. He would like the opportunity to explore any possibilities that are out there for him. Certainly, we are a possibility."
Holland added that if Babcock leaves, Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill would be a "legitimate candidate" to take over behind the bench.
There are six coaching vacancies in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks looking to hire for next season.
All of have varying levels of appeal, particularly the Oilers, Sabres and Leafs.
Edmonton: As TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reports, general manager Peter Chiarelli is meeting with head coach Todd Nelson this weekend and will also reach out to Babcock - perhaps before Babcock heads to the World Hockey Championship in Prague next week.The Oilers have one of the most skilled groups of young forwards in the NHL, which as of June 26, will be headlined by generational talent Connor McDavid, the best NHL prospect since Sidney Crosby in 2005. McDavid is averaging nearly three points per game in the OHL playoffs. He is regarded as the seventh in a line of Canadian prodigies over the past half-century, following Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and Crosby.
Buffalo: The NHL’s worst team has deep pockets and will most certainly have centre Jack Eichel – the presumptive No. 2 draft pick – in their lineup next season. Some scouts believe he is so good that he would have been the No. 1 pick in every draft since 2005, even in 2008 (which featured Steven Stamkos) and 2009 (John Tavares).
Toronto: Winning with the Leafs, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years, would be a crowning achievement for any head coach comfortable in the spotlight.
Babcock, 52, has been head coach of the Red Wings for 10 seasons, leading them to a 458-223-105 regular season record and extending their NHL-leading streak of playoff appearances to 24 seasons.
He guided the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and to the Cup final the following season.
Prior to joining the Red Wings, Babcock spent two seasons with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, taking them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03.
His resume also includes impressive stints behind the bench on the international stage, coaching Canada to gold medals at the 1997 World Junior Hockey Championship, the 2004 World Men's Championship and Olympic gold at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Babcock is in the final year of his contract with the Red Wings and is expected to set a new high for NHL coaches' salaries, eclipsing the $2.95 million earned by Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville this season.
Since Babcock started with Detroit:
2005-06 to 2014-15
Best Points Percentage
1 Detroit Red Wings, 0.649 - Babcock
2 San Jose Sharks, 0.637 - Wilson (.638), McLellan (.637)
3 Anaheim Ducks, 0.611 - Carlyle (.588), Boudreau (.654)
4 Vancouver Canucks, 0.610 - Crawford (.561), Vigneault (.632), Desjardins (.616)
5 Pittsburgh Penguins, 0.609 - Olczyk (.355), Therrien (.555), Bylsma (.668), Johnston (.598)
Most Playoff Wins (W-GP)
Detroit Red Wings - 67-123, Mike Babcock
Chicago Blackhawks - 65-104, Quenneville
Pittsburgh Penguins - 59-108, Therrien, Bylsma, Johnston
Boston Bruins - 57-97, Julien
Anaheim Ducks - 52-89, Carlyle, Boudreau