While acknowledging the sheer comedy factor that accompanies any mention of Mike Keenan, the most intriguing coach connected to the Penguins is current Detroit Red Wings boss Mike Babcock.
Babcock still has one year left on his contract with the Red Wings, a franchise for whom he’s worked since 2005. While in Detroit, the 51-year-old Ontario native has guided the club to nine playoff berths, five division titles, two Stanley Cup final appearances and a championship in 2008. If the Penguins wanted to poach him, they’d have to get permission from the Wings to buy out the final year of his deal.
Why would Babcock leave a place that has treated him so well? It’s anyone’s guess if a move to Pittsburgh is feasible, but it’s instructive to know that he and Red Wings general manager Ken Holland both agreed to put off any talks of a contract extension after Detroit was eliminated from the playoffs last month.
It’s doubtful a coach of Babcock’s status would enter the next season as a “lame duck,” although that’s how Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman handled his late-career stint with Detroit – with a series of one-year contracts. However, one doesn’t imagine Babcock is anywhere close to putting his whistle away.
Why could Babcock work well with the Penguins? For one, his famously abrasive style would be a stark departure from Bylsma’s more amicable approach. Much like Bylsma represented a departure from the blustery Michel Therrien in 2009, Babcock would push the personality meter in a sterner direction.
Also, with reports surfacing that Sidney Crosby grew increasingly frustrated with Bylsma this season, bringing in the coach who helped Crosby win two Olympic gold medals would be a nod to the Pittsburgh captain.
On the other hand, Crosby has just played under Babcock for a few weeks combined; would familiarity breed contempt if the two were forced to coexist on a long-term basis? Babcock has been known to wear on his stars, as his relationships with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk reportedly run hot and cold.
But maybe that business-like atmosphere is just what this Penguins team needs to reach the playoffs heights they previously attained under Therrien and Bylsma.