Panthers team scope: Rather than sinking to the bottom of the NHL standings as many predicted, the Panthers are hanging around the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture in the Eastern Conference. They've alternated wins and losses in their past six games (3-2-1) and lost 4-2 on Monday at the St. Louis Blues to start a three-game road trip. Rookie defensemanAaron Ekblad, who is on a five-game point streak, missed practice Thursday because of soreness. He and coach Gerard Gallant told reporters it was nothing to worry about. Injured forwards Scottie Upshall (ankle) and Aleksander Barkov (groin and hand) practiced Thursday in Detroit. Upshall might be ready to face the Red Wings and Barkov is targeting a possible return next week. Defenseman Shane O'Brien was recalled Thursday from San Antonio of the American Hockey League.
Red Wings team scope: Detroit is coming off a 2-1 shootout loss Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The defeat snapped a three-game win streak for the Red Wings, who've used a 11-3-2 stretch in their past 16 games to surge to the upper crust of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. Forward Justin Abdelkader (shoulder) practiced Thursday, but coach Mike Babcock said his return isn't likely until next week, and the Red Wings placed him on injured reserve, retroactive to Nov. 30. After practice, Babcock shot down reports that he was close to signing a contract extension, saying he isn't likely to sign an extension during the season. Defenseman Danny DeKeyser has an upper-body injury that will keep him out for at least this weekend. Defenseman Xavier Ouellet was recalled Thursday from Grand Rapids of the AHL.
Babcock had been the subject of intense speculation he would move on – to the Wings’ division rival Maple Leafs, some said – when his current deal expired at the end of this season, but his links to the team were not easily broken, especially considering how well it has started the 2014-15 campaign.
Although the Wings were beaten at home by Toronto Wednesday night, they still had the Eastern Conference’s best record (17-6-6) and only Anaheim had more points (43) than Detroit’s 40. This, despite a roster whose two best players aren’t far from retirement. This, despite a patchwork defense corps that’s hardly the envy of the NHL. This, despite the hiccups and backsliding that can occur when you’re attempting to assimilate a new generation of young talent into the sport’s top professional league.
The Red Wings throw aside more phoney crutches than a fraudulent religious healer’s act and just go out there and win, and when you’re as much a part of that culture as Babcock is, it’s next to impossible to walk away from it.
And if people are waiting for Detroit’s bubble to burst in the next few months, recall last season, where they were more of a triage unit than a hockey team: Babcock’s team could’ve leaned on any of those excuses to miss the playoffs and end the Wings’ insane post-season streak. Didn’t happen. Youngsters such as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar continued to develop.
The Leafs (and about 29 other teams) would’ve loved to hire Babcock, but they’ll move along without him and wait for another coach they like – for instance, a Lindy Ruff, or an Alain Vigneault – to be looking for work. But Babcock’s familiarity with and fondness for the franchise with which his coaching career has peaked made his decision process relatively easy. So did the future he sees for it.
At 51 years of age, Babcock has a lot of years of coaching left in him if he wants to stick around, and he wouldn’t recommit to Detroit if he believed he wouldn’t have the organizational support and expertise necessary to win his second Stanley Cup. He also easily could’ve broken the bank with a more lucrative contract than the Wings offered him, but he didn’t wait until the off-season to drive up his price and soak his employers for a few hundred thousand dollars more.
The Wings have their challenges, but in the end, too many things keep going right in Detroit for Babcock to get hung up on anything that was going wrong.