AFTER A WEEK of contemplation, Mike Babcock wants to see what's on the open market.
And despite their interest in keeping Babcock on as head coach, the Detroit Red Wings will give him that opportunity.
The Red Wings granted Babcock permission to speak to interested parties beginning at noon yesterday, the team announced. His negotiation window with interested parties will extend through May 25.
Babcock, 52, is hockey's most sought-after free agent this summer - including players. His contract with Detroit expires on June 30. The Red Wings would be due compensation of one third-round draft pick between 2015 and '17 should Babcock decide to leave before that date.
The Flyers are on the long list of potential suitors, including Toronto, Buffalo, Edmonton, New Jersey and San Jose. Other teams, such as Boston, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, who still retain their current coaches, might also be interested in making a change solely in an attempt to nab Babcock.
According to sources close to him, Babcock is interested in an offer from the Flyers. He is also general manager Ron Hextall's No. 1 target. But that doesn't mean Babcock will ultimately leave Detroit.
"If there's a better situation out there for Mike Babcock, he's earned the right to [explore that]," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told reporters. "Mike wants the opportunity to see what's out there. I want Mike Babcock if he wants to stay. The only way he knows if it's right is to talk to teams who have interest in him."
In many ways, yesterday's news was expected. Babcock had more than a year to ink an extension in Detroit. If he wasn't going to shop around, he already would have re-signed. He turned down a $16.25 million contract over five years from the Red Wings, according to reports, and would like to become the highest-paid coach in hockey history. Holland said the Wings made Babcock two different offers this week alone.
Regardless of where Babcock lands - even if he tests the waters and decides the Detroit River tastes pretty good - he will be the NHL's highest-paid coach. That much is a given.
Instead, this pursuit of a new home for hockey's longest-tenured coach will be as much about opportunity for success as anything else. Babcock is known as a man who likes a new challenge. The Red Wings haven't advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009.
Babcock has won a Stanley Cup (2008), two Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014, for Canada) and an IIHF World Championship (2004). He is an astounding 527-285-138 in 950 games for a .627 career winning percentage.
Is his best chance to win with a young core in Detroit? Is it in Edmonton, with rising star Connor McDavid? Is it in St. Louis, should the Blues decide to fire Ken Hitchcock, with a roster already built for the Cup?
Aside from the cash, the Flyers would seem to have less of a roster assembled for imminent contention than St. Louis or even Detroit. Then again, they have four solid defensemen being groomed right around the corner, plus a base with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. Babcock will travel to the World Championships in Prague next week, where he will see Giroux, Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Mark Streit firsthand.
All money being equal, the Flyers certainly have more to build around than Buffalo or Toronto, two other potential landing spots. Many think Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan will dangle full control of the GM position to Babcock, in addition to the job of head coach and a dump-truck full of money, but Babcock said last week he does not want to be a GM.
Up until now, the Flyers - and a slew of other teams - have held up their coaching search in an effort to see whether they can lure Babcock from Detroit. That courting process begins now. And the dominoes will fall as they may after.