Many in the hockey world were surprised in May when Mike Babcock announced he was leaving Detroit to become the next head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was not one of them.
“I kind of figured that out, that he was moving on and obviously the media attention all along was big,” Zetterberg told MLive.com’s Ansar Khan on Thursday.
“But for us players who weren’t playing — we were kind of on vacation already — we didn’t really get that effect of it, but I heard from the guys who were around here still that it was a big deal.”
That “big deal” is worth a whopping $50 million over the course of eight years. And while the signing of the contract marked a big step for the rebuilding Maple Leafs, it also ushered in a new era in Detroit. A fresh start, said Zetterberg.
“There’s a lot of guys in here who’ve been through the same stuff for many years,” Zetterberg said. “I think now with the additions of [defenceman Mike] Green and [centre Brad] Richards, and the new coach [Jeff Blashill], it’s given us a little fresh start. Obviously, it’s going to be a different voice behind the bench and sometimes you need that.”
The Red Wings enjoyed much success during their 10 years under Babcock, going 458-223-105 in the regular season and never missing the playoffs. They won the Presidents’ Trophy twice during that time, and were crowned Stanley Cup champions in 2007-08. Babcock’s first year as the team’s head coach, in 2005, also coincided with Zetterberg’s 39-goal breakout season.
“I want to thank Mike for the time he had here, but I think both him and us probably decided it was time,” Zetterberg said.
Zetterberg and the Red Wings will open the 2015-16 season with Blashill at the helm in front of a home crowd on Oct. 9 against Babcock himself as he makes his Maple Leafs debut at Joe Louis Arena.