I think making the playoffs is the definition of playoff caliber. It sounds like you are talking about being a Stanley Cup contender. I'm not denying our poor performance in the first round last year. Though I think that was more so due to match-up then anything. I don't see us performing like that against Pittsburgh. Not saying we win, but we definitely do better.
Either way, this is all semantics, we are a playoff caliber team.
We are absolutely a playoff-caliber team with Datsyuk and Zetterberg still around. Even with age and injuries, those two guys are still are remarkable players, and even in their absence last year due to injury, I almost feel as if it's reasonable to say that the hole they left was so large that it had much to do with many of the younger guys rising up and playing above a level that one would typically expect of them. When you still have a core of Dats and Z, you should be making the playoffs. I've said it for years, and I'm still saying it now, even in light of last season.
We are not contenders, and despite what many like to say about how anything is possible if you just get in, it's simply not something substantial enough to be able to bank on. I'm not saying it's entirely untrue, but there is more of a divide between the contenders and some of the teams that squeak in than people realize. And oftentimes, some of the 7th-8th seeds that squeak in and go the distance were better teams than their regular season records showed, and they proved that in the playoffs. We haven't come close to proving that, and one could say last season, quite the opposite was proven.
Many Detroit fans were deluded by how close we came to beating Chicago a couple years back. The reality of that series was Chicago wasn't even close to being on their game and their stars weren't rising up to the playoff challenge as the series started. We took advantage of it early on, and then Chicago came back against significant odds and proved once again why they've won two Cups in the last five years. We certainly didn't make it easy for them, even in the final three games, but they found a way to crawl out of the hole and win, and they went on to win the Cup.
Last year, Boston manhandled us and proved that our kids weren't ready to answer the playoff bell. We just looked weaker and weaker as that series went on. Are we going to be a better team this year? Maybe our kids will improve, or maybe they'll still need more time to be ready. Dats and Z might be healthier, but any way you shake it, they're getting older, so it's tough to say how much of an impact they'll have on the scoresheet. Our defense isn't likely to be any better unless a kid comes up and overachieves. And while my money is on Howard bouncing back strong, he can't do it alone.
I think we'll squeak into the playoffs, but we're not real close to being able to contend for the Cup right now. We won't be until something more dramatic happens to improve the defense in particular, and until our kids mature to a point where they aren't shutdown in the playoffs, or perhaps in general when having to play a lesser role on a less-injured team.
That said though, I don't think that's why Babcock would leave. I do think he enjoys working with the kids, and I don't think money is going to be an issue that affects the decision. I could see him wanting to move on for the sake of new challenges and experiences, and as much as I'd hate to see it, from his perspective, I could understand why he might want to go to a team like Pittsburgh. It's an opportunity that you aren't going to get very often. I don't know if he'd actually do it, and I don't know that he wants to leave, but I do think he's likely more frustrated with the way this team's been run than he's let on lately, and I think he is likely as tired of getting no help from the GM as any of us. He's made enough comments suggesting so in the press to infer at the very least that he isn't thrilled by all that hasn't happened in the last 4-5 years. I'm not saying it's an extreme situation, but I have no doubt that it's something that bothers him because he's been frustrated enough to say so numerous times.
You add everything up, and I could see Babcock going to another team after this season and I could understand why. I hope it doesn't come to that because I think he's a great coach, but it'd be hard to fault him.