By: Will Burchfield
Last week, Chris Chelios claimed that Mike Babcock and his hardline coaching style deterred veteran free agents from signing with the Red Wings during Babcock’s tenure in Detroit.
Babcock, after initially deflecting a follow-up question, responded to Chelios’ comments on Friday.
“I could belabor this all day long if you want. I’m not going to. I think guys who played for us here — (Brian) Rafalski was a free agent, he was unbelievable, helped us win a Cup. I think Dominik Hasek was a free agent, he was fantastic. So I think we got lots (of free agents) to come,” Babcock told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
Babcock, now the head coach of the Maple Leafs, said there are a multitude of factors that influence a player’s decision in free agency.
“In the end you have to pay these guys, though, and some teams can pay more than you. And some guys’ wives are from certain areas. We got Rafalski to come here because he had been from Michigan,” Babcock said. “That’s reality.”
Chelios, who played for Babcock from 2005 through 2009, told 97.1 The Ticket last Friday that the Wings are better positioned to acquire established players in free agency now that Babcock has moved on.
“No veteran free agent is going to want to come in and play for Mike Babcock,” said Chelios, who was traded to the Wings in 1999 and later re-signed with the team to chase his third Stanley Cup. “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.”
Babcock severely cut Chelios’ ice time end during the end of the defenseman’s tenure in Detroit, but that was due to Chelios’ declining play more than anything else. Babcock spoke highly of the three-time Norris Trophy winner on Friday.
“Cheli is a Hall of Fame player, had a great, great career. Always a consummate professional, worked real, real hard and got his name on the Cup (three times). I enjoyed being around his dad, enjoyed being around his boys, we had them on the ice a number of times,” Babcock said. “The way I look back at all this is just positive, so to comment on any of that stuff makes no sense for me.”
Chelios said that Babcock’s demanding coaching style worked for some players but not others.
“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 going to play,” Chelios said.
Babcock discussed his coaching approach on Friday.
“23 players, 23 different ways. You do the best you can with each and every guy. The hardest part, I think, of the coaching business is they’re all people and they’re all players and you can’t confuse the two. You have to love the people each and every night, but if you play good you get to play and if you can help the team win you get to play.”
Ultimately, Babcock was guided by one motivation during his time behind the bench in Detroit.
“There’s lots of hard decisions over the years and that’s just the way it goes. In saying all that, I think what’s really important is you try to maximize the group the best you can, try to help each and every individual maximize himself,” he said. “But in the end, you’re paid to win games and you try to do the best you can to make those decisions so you can do that.”