He's a good coach, but he needs a change of scenery. Every coach eventually needs a change of scenery when he's hit a wall with a team.
The team needs a new change of philosophy.
But what part of the team hitting the wall is really Babcock's fault?
Again, look at the teams Holland's put together starting with the 2009/10 season. We've been losing major pieces to our defense, not replacing them with even one person of note. We keep signing a bunch of random forwards, sometimes to terrible deals, and sometimes just too many of them. We've had more guys walk away, for better or for worse, and probably the most notable signing to a new player that we've made in some time is for Weiss, who's been a complete non-factor this year due to injury. Hell, I'm getting scared we're going to start hearing stories about sled dogs soon the way that one's going. Oh yeah, and again, you've got the absurd amount of injuries, including to our two best players and clearly the leaders of this team. I could say so much more if I wanted to go into more detail, but I'm trying to not turn on the former History major part of my brain when I post.
Bottom line, when you look at the way this team has been built since 2009/10, with Ken Holland as the GM making the deals, yes, it's clear that we are swiftly declining in far too many ways, and anything about the team that's hitting the wall tends to have much more to do with the guys Holland signs and the holes he ignores. It says a lot that in far too many cases the last couple years, we're a better team when most of the outside guys Holland signs in the offseason are out of the lineup. And I mean, for crying out loud, we've got players eating up a ton of cap room that aren't even playing because they're not good enough, despite how decimated this squad is. These signings aren't even making it to the wall, they're spontaneously exploding in mid air! ->
(Tangent: I don't feel this applies to our 3rd and 4th line types though, and I think Holland's ability to find guys like Miller and Eaves who are cheap but have a lot of upside to be one of his strongest assets, which is also why I don't get why he isn't more willing to be more aggressive with higher end talent, if it takes more money to sign top guys but you excel at finding $1 million players that perform like $2 million players, you're in a good, balanced situation, much better than overpaying for mid-level talent that ends up performing like low-level talent, if they even dress for the team...)
<- And back to the main point...
I think you could make an argument that Babcock has done the complete opposite of hitting the wall, as he's taken a broken, unbalanced team, missing it's two most important players for much of this season, replaced with a bunch of guys without NHL experience, and he's been able to craft them into a team that against all conceivable odds is still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Last year he did it too, and look at the stink we made in the playoffs. This year he hasn't even had the benefit of a solid Jimmy Howard to compensate for the lousy defense, but they're still finding a way to be in the hunt. That to me is just incredibly impressive, and I would absolutely not want to lose a coach who's managed to keep pulling this off, all the more so given who much worse things are this year.
If anyone's hitting the wall with the team, it's Ken Holland, not Mike Babcock. I'm fed up to the point of thinking he needs to be gone, even while recognizing that in canning him, we may get someone who shakes things up and does even more damage. But we need to move on from the way Ken Holland's been doing things in the cap era, and we need to do it before Dats and Z become ineffective or out and out retire from the NHL. If Ken Holland can find a way to move on from the way he's done things, fine. I have nothing against Holland personally and I think he does have strengths that would be of benefit to this team if he would change his strategy to stop overspending on aging mid-level scrubs and spend more on higher-end talent that can make a real difference most nights while leading a younger squad.
But if Holland's going to continue as he has been, he absolutely needs to go, and soon, because as positive as I can try to be about this team right now, it's becoming more and more clear all the time how screwed we'll be in 3-4 years at the given rate of decline. It's already a lot harder and it's going to be damn near impossible to improve this team from the outside with our fading reputation. As good as our kids are, we're going to need to be able to do that, on defense two years ago and on offense more as Datsyuk and Zetterberk decline. I doubt we're going to get great draft positions so long as Dats and Z are still here too as they'll go a long way towards helping us stay out of the gutter.
But on that note, what really makes me think Holland needs to go is that he's utterly squandered what should've been some of our best years with two superstars. We are a competitive team nearly every night you have a healthy Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the lineup. Just look at how things went in the playoffs last year; clearly, we're not as far removed from the contender class as it sometimes seems. If Holland had done a better job of planning for a strong defense ready to transition out of the Nick Lidstrom era, that alone would keep us in the true contender class, and I believe we'd have at least one more Cup win to show for it. When you consider that he also could've made many significantly better decisions with the offense, going all the way back to the summer of 2009 (*cough Hossa *cough), you just have to shake your head. But we really do have the core of a team still that is capable of being a true contender, even right now once we move past some injuries. We need a GM who sees that and is willing to go for it, because we need some serious success just to strengthen this franchise's reputation and get it back on players lists. We are going to need that sort of leverage to build a team capable of transitioning out of the Datsyuk and Zetterberg era, because as strong as we've been and could be in the draft, we're going to need to be able to go out and sign or trade for the right guy to fill the right hole when we need it, and you absolutely can't plan for every hole that presents itself years ahead through smart drafting.
So much for staying concise, but the more I think about what this team could and should be doing, the more frustrated I get. Holland needs to dramatically change his game plan this summer, without fail, or he needs to move on or move into another role and let someone else take over. Like I said, it may end up being a worse situation than we're facing now, but it could be better. If Holland stays on as GM without changing his ways, I can see no other outcome than the Red Wings being in huge trouble in the next 3-4 years. It's time for Holland or someone else to step in and take some big chances and make some big bets on this team being a real contender. It's time to stop accepting mediocrity. This team deserves better.