By: Will Burchfield
Mike Babcock saw the writing on the wall.
The Red Wings had an aging core, a depleted farm system and just one playoff series victory in the previous three years when the head coach jumped ship from Detroit to Toronto in the summer of 2015.
Two years later, the Wings look destined to miss the playoffs for the first time in 26 seasons and Babcock, whose Leafs are in the midst of a revival, looks prescient.
“Ken Holland, Mr. Ilitch and all those people have done an unbelievable job over a period of time maxing out their resources,” Babcock told reporters on Tuesday ahead of his team’s game against Detroit. “But there’s a point in time when it catches up to you.”
The Red Wings, guided by GM Ken Holland, have tried to retool on the fly rather than strip things down and start over. But the players coming through the system haven’t been good enough to fill the shoes of those who are either on their way out or already gone.
“What happens is you want to go from that to a bunch of young kids and get going again, and it doesn’t happen like that,” Babcock said. “That’s the problem.”
(It’s also the natural consequence of lacking a top-10 draft pick for each of the past 25 years.)
Holland has seen the writing on the wall, too. He acknowledged last summer that the Wings are no longer a Stanley Cup contender and accepted the team’s fate this season by selling at the trade deadline. It was the inevitable conclusion to years of success and win-now thinking.
“I think that’s what the Red Wings, with myself as GM, have tried to stand for. We’re trying to win — but at some point in time, you pay the price,” Holland said last week.
The Wings have fended off the bill for years. In fact, there were many who thought the team’s demise had already begun when Babcock took over as head coach in 2005.
“At that time we were supposed to be going into the tank,” Babcock recalled. “And in the next 10 years (we) proceeded to make the playoffs every year, the only team to do that.”
That run included a Stanley Cup championship in 2008 and a return to the Finals a year later.
But Detroit’s hour of reckoning has finally arrived. Looking back on the organization’s 25-year run, Babcock knows it can only be fully appreciated from within.
“Nobody understands because they’re not living it every day,” he said. “Just think about what they’ve been able to do.”