ANAHEIM — It’s late in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, that time when teams have a couple more weeks to get their business done before the unofficial, Gary Bettman-imposed Stanley Cup moratorium on distracting announcements.
Detroit has set Mike Babcock free, Ottawa has secured Boston University free agent goalie Matt O’Connor, and a recurring topics in press boxes across the league are, “Who on earth would want that GM job in Toronto?” and, “Do you think the Edmonton Oilers will finally get their act together?”
As we make our way from Calgary to Anaheim for Game 5 of this Western Conference semi-final, let’s tackle a few of these, shall we?
• First, Babcock: Here’s what we’d bet the house on: Whatever he and Detroit GM Ken Holland are saying about Babcock possibly returning to the Red Wings, that’s not happening. This couple has been sleeping in separate beds for months, and now Babcock has his own apartment. He’s not going back, and the Wings are ready to move on as well.
So, where does the top free agent coach in recent hockey history land? Well, not in Toronto, which already has too many cooks in the kitchen. And not with low-budget teams that can’t afford the mega-salary he will command: St. Louis, San Jose, and New Jersey. Each of Buffalo, Edmonton and Philadelphia would be able to afford him, but they all require some losing before the winning begins, and everyone who knows Babcock will tell you he isn’t big on the ‘L’ word.
I still like Babcock with a team that’s close, such as St. Louis or Pittsburgh, where Ken Hitchcock and Mike Johnston currently reside, despite the financial issue.
Is Boston close enough? We’re not sure, and I just can’t see a Cam Neely, Mike Babcock partnership.
Babcock is scheduled to leave for Prague and the World Championships on Sunday, a trip Babcock and Holland had planned already. There he will get an eyeful of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, who are ripping it up on a line with Sidney Crosby.
It could be just that leads Babcock to take on the intriguing project that is the Edmonton Oilers.
“I think he’ll follow McDavid (to Edmonton),” a scout opined this week. “The minute I heard him asking about, ‘How are we going to replace (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg) in Detroit?’ I knew he’d want to find some new, young stars.”
Edmonton fits that bill, you can’t deny. And he has long relationships with team CEO Bob Nicholson and new GM Peter Chiarelli. Sometimes, however, when people have long relationships it turns out they know each other’s faults as well as each of their qualities.
Edmonton will talk with Babcock, but it’s not a slam-dunk — from either direction.
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• Why wouldn’t Babcock go to Toronto? Here’s why:
When you are a coach of Babcock’s import, it becomes what I like to call a “reverse job interview.” Babcock will choose his GM more than the GM will choose his new coach. But who is going to be the GM in Toronto?
The job description comes with Brendan Shanahan breathing down your neck from above, with his direction and input likely required on all major moves. Your cap guy (Kyle Dubas) is already in place. Your director of player personnel (Mark Hunter) is already in place. There are only a handful of scouts — just two on the pro side — remaining after the team cleaned house last month.
The Leafs job is not one that an established, veteran GM will take. It will be a first-timer, and the Mike Babcock I know won’t go into a dysfunctional situation with a rookie GM, a paucity of young, star players, and an on-ice leadership group that proved to be a train wreck last year.
Sorry, Leafs fans.
• Finally, the Matt O’Connor sweepstakes were decided on Saturday, as the 6-foot-5 Boston University grad decided to tend goal in Binghamton next season for the Ottawa Senators.
“It was an extremely difficult decision and I was pretty analytical in making it,” O’Connor told reporters over the phone — while I was flying into Anaheim. He informed the Rangers, Canucks and Oilers of his decision, before calling Ottawa.
“It was a big decision in my life,” the Toronto native said. “I had four organizations and I really didn’t think there was a possibility to make a bad choice. Ottawa had shown a lot of interest. A lot of personnel had made trips down to Boston throughout the year. Just meeting with the organization, I wanted to go somewhere where I would develop and I feel like Ottawa is a great place for me to develop as a goalie.”
Expect Edmonton to feel out the Senators about a goalie, but frankly, I don’t see Chiarelli going with an unknown quantity such as Robin Lehner. He’s never played more than 36 NHL games in a season, but Ottawa has one too many goaltenders.
Someone is moving on from Ottawa — from a pool of Lehner, Craig Anderson and the unsigned Andrew Hammond.