Author: Jason Brough

Mike Babcock

Red Wings, Sabres appear the leading candidates for Babcock


It won’t be Philadelphia, as we one time thought it might be. And with Todd McLellan sounding more and more like a done deal in Edmonton, we’ll assume the Oilers are out too.

So, where will Mike Babcock choose when he makes his decision, something he apparently plans to do by Wednesday?

We’ll go ahead and make Detroit and Buffalo the co-favorites.

The former is the familiar option, the one where he knows what to expect. He has a good relationship with the current GM, and there’s an owner that’s been good to him as well. The Red Wings may have an uncertain future, and you can rightly question where there’s a prospect with “big-time” potential. But the grass, as you may have heard, isn’t always greener on the other side.

But what if the grass is greener? Because sometimes the grass is greener. The Sabres already have Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nikita Zadorov in the system, and they’re going to draft Jack Eichel. That’s two centers and two d-men, each with a huge amount of potential. No, Buffalo isn’t going to win the Stanley Cup next season, but Babcock could walk into that organization — one where he already has a relationship with the GM — and shape those high-ceiling players exactly how he wants. That’s pretty tempting. And with a deep-pocketed owner, money would be no object.

Money, of course, would be no option for the Maple Leafs either. If Babcock wanted a challenge, there may be none bigger than the one in Toronto. What Canadian coach wouldn’t want to be the one that led the Leafs to their first Cup title since 1967? But do the Leafs have the pieces? Not yet they don’t. Heck, they don’t even have a GM. We’re not ready to count out the Leafs, but we’d sooner bet on someone like Pete DeBoer to get that gig.

St. Louis is an interesting new development, if only because the Blues would offer Babcock the best chance at winning a Cup as soon as possible. As in, next season. But the Blues haven’t even moved on from Ken Hitchcock yet. Is Babcock going to take a job that means his Hockey Canada colleague is out of one? Probably not. Besides, the Blues have a pretty strict budget.

San Jose and New Jersey are the other options, with neither seeming likely to land Babcock. The Sharks just have way too much uncertainty, and the Devils, well, let’s face it, he’s not going to New Jersey.

Related: Just Sabres, Leafs reportedly formally file paperwork to speak to Babcock

For NHL rookie Hakstol, the right assistant coaches will be key

Dave Hakstol

Don’t expect the surprise hiring of Dave Hakstol to be the only change to the Flyers’ coaching staff. While assistants Gord Murphy, Joe Mullen, and Ian Laperriere remain with the organization for now, GM Ron Hextall confirmed today that there could be changes.

“Dave and I are going to sit down later today and start to gather ideas about what we want, and we’ll form a staff from there,” said Hextall. “All the assistants now are still part of our staff. When we move forward here, we’ll let everyone know.

“But I think Dave and I, through our talks, it’s very important for him to have the right people, the right fit on the staff, and I feel the same way.”

Hakstol, the longtime head coach at the University of North Dakota, comes to Philadelphia with zero NHL experience. It’s only common sense that he’s going to require some guidance in that department.

Just ask Lightning coach Jon Cooper how much assistant Rick Bowness has meant to him.

“He’s meant the world to me. He taught me about the NHL,” said Cooper, who’d never been behind an NHL bench before he was hired to lead Tampa Bay.

“There is something to learn about the league, the players, where to be, when to be, how you act.

“There are just so many different things that he expedited my learning process on that. For somebody that’s had all the experiences that he’s had, it’s just soak it all in, and just the wealth of knowledge, and plus he’s an unreal guy.

“He’s just been through so many different things. It’s great to learn from him.”

For the record, Murphy is an experienced assistant coach, having spent multiple seasons in Columbus and Florida before joining the Flyers for the 2014-15 season.

Mullen has similar NHL coaching experience. A Hall of Fame player, he’s been a Flyers assistant since 2007, and he was on the Penguins’ staff before that.

Laperriere rejoined the organization in 2012. He’s been an assistant the past two seasons.

So, perhaps Hextall and Hakstol determine there’s already enough in the experience department. Maybe it’s other areas where they feel the staff needs to be supplemented.

But based on what Hextall said today, it’s unlikely the staff remains entirely in place.

Hextall on hiring Hakstol: ‘This was a gut decision, and I feel extremely comfortable with it’

Dave Hakstol

Ron Hextall had a list of all the things he wanted from his next head coach. And of all the things on that list, Dave Hakstol only lacked one of them — NHL experience.

Not surprisingly, it was that lack of experience that became the main topic of inquiry today in Philadelphia, where the Flyers introduced the longtime University of North Dakota coach as their new bench boss.

How did the general manager come to hire such a relative unknown when candidates like Mike Babcock and Dan Bylsma were out there?

Well, Hextall’s son, Brett, spent three seasons under Hakstol at North Dakota, so there was already “some familiarity” there.

But that was only for starters.

“He’s got a lot of pro qualities. He’s got a lot of experience as a head coach,” Hextall said of Hakstol.

“We met parts of four days. We were on the phone a lot. And everything checked out the way we hoped it would check out.

“I had a list of things that I wanted from a head coach, and went down this checklist in my mind. Every box was checked except for the NHL experience. And, quite frankly, for me, that was the one that was the least important.”

Not that Hextall completely discounted the experience factor: “Does Dave have things to learn? Absolutely. He’ll be the first to admit it. … It’s a big jump (from college to the NHL). I think that’s fair to say.”

But, “the biggest thing is his knowledge of the game is extremely high-level.”

Hakstol expressed similar confidence, while also not dismissing his lack of NHL experience. He conceded there were “going to be several adjustments along the way,” including how his “message” would be delivered to professionals.

“Certainly, the fact that I do not have experience at this level, I’m not going to pretend that I do,” he said. “But I do have an awful lot of confidence in terms of knowing the game well, knowing how to relate and communicate with players.”

As for who else the Flyers were considering for the job, Hextall wasn’t sharing names. He wouldn’t comment on whether Babcock was in the mix.

All he’d say was, “We did a lot of homework on a lot of people.”

With Hakstol hired, the next step for the Flyers will be to finalize the rest of the coaching staff. For now, assistants Gord Murphy, Joe Mullen and Ian Laperriere remain employed. But that could change.

In the meantime, some will criticize Hextall’s choice, others will laud it. And he’s just fine with that.

“In the end,” said Hextall, “when you’re making decisions like this, you take all the information, you process it — and it was a process — and you weed through it, and you make a decision with your gut. This was a gut decision, and I feel extremely comfortable with it.”