Detroit Red Wings: Mike Babcock's Legacy Will Be Defined by 2012-13 Season
Last June, Darryl Sutter defined his coaching legacy by leading the Los Angeles Kings to their first Stanley Cup championship.
Though Sutter has over 25 years of NHL coaching and management experience, his role as an in-season replacement for a struggling team who managed an eight-seed finish will likely be the one that defines his legacy.
Mike Babcock has coached a Stanley Cup-winning team, too.
However, his legacy, at least in Detroit hockey history, will likely be defined by his team's performance in a lockout-shortened season, amidst the loss of one hockey legend, two core players and scads of regulars downed by injuries.
Everyone the hockey-world over knew the Red Wings were going to face a serious challenge this season as soon as Nicklas Lidstrom laid his legendary career to rest last May.
Not only did Lidstrom embody the very identity of the whole of his team, at 42, he was still one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
Losing a captain is difficult enough, but losing your best player is a fate few teams can suffer and continue to succeed.
Add to this loss the departure of top-four defender Brad Stuart and even the diminishing, yet still effective, net-front superhero Tomas Holmstrom and suddenly the Red Wings barely resemble the team iced a season ago.
What do these losses have to do with Babcock's coaching legacy in Detroit?
Well, Babcock himself often remarked that Lidstrom made his job as a coach considerably easier.
Lidstrom was not only a player that required no coaching. He provided a working model of how the game should be played nearly every time he cleared the boards.
Teammates had only to look at Lidstrom's play on the ice to get a pretty accurate idea of how their coach wanted them to play.
Now that model, that "Perfect Human," is gone.
Though Stuart and Holmstrom did not model that same level of excellence, Babcock knew exactly what he would get out of both players and simply needed to deploy them as appropriate.
That kind of excellence and reliability makes life as an NHL hockey coach that much sweeter.
This season, Babcock still has solid, world-class players to work with.
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will produce their fair share of highlight-reel plays this season.
Jimmy Howard looks to continue his rock-solid play in net (and is perhaps the only reason Detroit's 2-2 season start is not 0-4).
Niklas Kronwall seems ready to lead a defense corps mixed with a smattering of veteran players, mid-career restoration projects and wide-eyed youngsters.
Mike Babcock still has good pieces to work with, but how well he uses them and to what level of success is a question that looms larger than it ever his during his eight-year tenure in Detroit.
This season will test Babcock like no other in his NHL career.
Yes, he has lead this team to a Stanley Cup, and that is no doubt No. 1 on Babcock's résumé under "career achievements."
But, unlike the aforementioned Los Angeles Kings, the Detroit Red Wings have had other coaches accomplish the same feat 10 other times.
This season, the organization isn't talking about winning a Stanley Cup, it's talking about making the playoffs.
Perhaps more to the point, it's talking about not missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons.
Should that fate eventually come to pass this season, there will be no shortage of acceptable excuses as to why.
The shortened season, the loss of Lidstrom, the loss of Stuart and Holmstrom, all the new faces, all the inexperienced players, all the injuries—take your pick, they'll all suffice for a reasonable excuse for missing the playoffs.
However, facing all those same challenges, should Mike Babcock extend this team's playoff appearances to 22 straight, well, that might just cement his legacy as one of the best coaches in Detroit Red Wings history.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MAhutter12
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