DETROIT (CBS Detroit) — Fans have heard rumblings for many years that there may have been tension between former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and the team’s veteran players.
Wings legend Chris Chelios confirmed those speculations in an interview with 97.1 The Ticket’s Jeff Riger during Detroit’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.
“No veteran free agent is going to want to come in and play for Mike Babcock,” Chelios said. “I wanted to because I wanted to stay in Detroit, but no matter what I did — I tried so hard to win his heart over and I just couldn’t.”
Chelios played for Babcock from 2005 through 2009, which included a Stanley Cup Championship in 2008.
After becoming known for signing Hall of Fame players throughout the early-2000s, fans have become increasingly frustrated with the team’s inability to bring in top-level talent. The Wings have only been connected to a few elite free agents since that period, most notably getting turned down by the likes of Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Steven Stamkos.
Another factor that many people thought might play a role in high-profile free agents spurning the Red Wings was the decaying Joe Louis Arena. The Joe may be legendary in the eyes of Detroiters, but it just can’t stack up to modern facilities.
Chelios said the team’s impending move to Little Caesars Arena could help lure some of those players back to the Motor City.
“I think it’s going to help a lot and I think it’s going to help even more that Babs is gone because those free agents really didn’t want to play for Babs,” Chelios said. “It’s nothing personal, but he’s a tough guy to play for, especially for a veteran. If you’re a young guy I think it’s great because of his accountability and if you don’t play [hard] you’re not gonna play.”
The Red Wings and Babcock would eventually part ways in 2015. He would go on to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit promoted Jeff Blashill from Grand Rapids.
“He didn’t like a lot of people,” Chelios said.