“One more loss. One more loss which coulda been a win!” So begins Danny Glover’s angry, post-defeat soliloquy in the movie Angels in the Outfield, complete with him kicking baseball bats and flipping over a post game meal spread in front of his stunned and starved team.
Perhaps Mike Babcock is thinking these exact same thoughts lately, but is he saying them behind closed doors or acting out on such emotion? The Columbus Blue Jackets (owners of less points than the Detroit Red Wings) rebounded from an early 2-0 deficit at Joe Louis Arena and won 3-2 on a last second goal by Vinny Prospal. In the last few weeks, these type of unacceptable meltdowns have become commonplace. The patience of Detroit’s fans, already tested by the lockout, is starting to wear very thin as the Red Wings fall behind further in the standings.
What did the boss publicly say to shake things up? “We had to find a way to win today,” Babcock blankly deadpanned last night after his team’s latest third period breakdown. That’s true, but how about showing a little emotion after such an ugly finish, coach? How about a verbal tongue lashing of a few underachieving players? Anything different than the current status quo, which has seen Detroit lose five games in a row in nearly identical fashion.
“We just gotta be puck tough. We’re not the biggest team, but we gotta be tough when we’re on it,” Babcock said, continuing to speak in generalities. How about impressing upon your players the importance of such play with a few well crafted explosions? Clearly, considering the Red Wings are looking more unimpressive by the day, nothing else is working right now.
Personality wise, Babcock is no John Tortorella, which might be why he has three Stanley Cup Final appearances, a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic gold medal to his credit. I get that. All of those teams with the exception of one, though, due to their overwhelming amount of veteran leaders and stars, were likely driven somewhat on autopilot. Babcock needs to channel his personality from the Anahiem Ducks circa 2003, in which he managed to inspire a ragtag mix of youth and veterans to stunning upsets of Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota, also coming within an eyelash of beating the New Jersey Devils out for the cup in seven games.
What did that team possess that has been lacking in Detroit? Attention to detail and work ethic, particularly. Perhaps they even played with a certain fear of Babcock, which led to success. Thus, It might be time for Babcock to get back to the “bad cop, bad cop” routine when dealing with his young 2013 Red WIngs. In a 2009 ESPN article by Pierre LeBrun, we learned that Babcock was very much an evil taskmaster upon his arrival in Detroit, but quickly molded his tune once he became comfortable with the Red Wings’ core of Hall of Fame players and their usual routine. That group is now almost completely gone.
Consequently, it’s probably the right time for Babcock’s demonstrative personality to take over again, especially as it results to the youngsters who have been playing major minutes. It’s clear they have immense talent, but when breakdowns happen at the same time in the same way, it’s the coach’s job to press the right buttons and demand a higher level of play. This is NHL hockey in Detroit. It’s not college, nor is it Grand Rapids or a foreign league. Perhaps Babcock has already started speaking differently to his current team. If that’s the case, it would be a decent idea for him to let a few choice words leak through to the media from time to time, letting everyone know they’re on watch.
At least then, Red Wings’ fans wouldn’t have to start wondering if the coach is doing everything he can to get the job done, which of course also leads to many premature calls for Babcock’s dismissal. Injuries have played a major role this year, and the lockout has left everyone scrambling. For the most part, fans understand that. It’s the whole “business as usual” persona Babcock consistently takes which confuses everybody, especially while Rome appears to be a burning inferno behind him.
If Babcock could do one thing to perhaps change fortunes in 2013, it would be to shake things up and go a bit crazy from time to time, even if it’s not typically within the confines of his personality. As he commented to LeBrun at the peak of Detroit’s success in June of 2009, “To me, I love the players, I really do. I want to make them better and I want to win. In order to do that, we’ve all got to be on the same page.”
In order to be on the same page now, Babcock has to be more of a chameleon in 2013 and change his tune. This isn’t your usual Hall of Fame Red Wings’ roster, Mike. It’s alright to seem a bit insulting right now.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax