Thursday, July 07, 2005

Forget Larry Brown -- Will Dave Lewis Be Back With Red Wings?

Maybe we're worrying about the future of the wrong Detroit head coach, after all.

According to a story in the Toronto Globe & Mail, Red Wings GM Ken Holland is pursuing Mike Babcock as the next Red Wings coach, replacing Dave Lewis.

Babcock led the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.

Lewis, on the one hand, was placed in a great situation as Red Wings coach, and in another way, it was an absolutely terrible situation. That's what you get when you replace a legend with a Hall of Fame roster poised to win the whole enchilada year after year. And when said enchilada is not won, well, in the words of Desi Arnaz, "Lewie, you have some 'splainin to do!"

Dave Lewis, in happier times

Lewis' record in his two postseasons as Red Wings coach is undistinguished, and that's being kind. The Wings were swept by Babcock's Ducks in 2003 in the first round, then were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round in 2004 by the Calgary Flames. His teams haven't come close to biting the enchilada. To be fair, both of the teams that eliminated the Lewis-led Red Wings went on to the Cup Finals, for whatever you think that is worth. Anyhow, such a low-profile playoff record isn't going to cut it in Detroit, where three Cups have been won since '97. Lewie inherited a terrific roster, but he can't change his DNA, which means he could never be Scotty Bowman. If that's what he's guilty of, then you certainly can't blame him for that. However, Lewis' defenders can't just say, "Well, he's not Bowman, what do you expect?" Players win games, and Lewis had plenty of good ones at his disposal. Notice how I'm talking about him in past tense. I think Dave Lewis is gone as Red Wings coach, frankly. Where there's smoke there's fire, referring to the Globe & Mail story.

For the record, I advocated bringing Lewis back after the '04 elimination at the hands of the Flames, because I didn't think, as good as his players are, that the Red Wings roster was populated with enough hard-nosed performers that thrive in playoff hockey. I said that Holland himself should be culpable for the makeup of the team that Lewis was trying to win with in the playoffs. I recommended Lewis be given more than the one-year extension he was afforded after the '04 season, because I felt such a short deal made him instantly a lame duck (no pun intended) coach. Well, now it all looks moot; the Red Wings appear to want to replace him, and of they can't get Babcock, I doubt they'll stop there. I can't imagine that Ken Holland thinks that only Mike Babcock could capably replace Dave Lewis.

The only thing I wonder about is what caused Holland to ponder such a change now. After all, not one minute of the NHL regular season has been played since the Red Wings last game in early May 2004. Dave Lewis' situation, in essence, has remain unchanged in over a year. Yet here Holland is, reportedly knocking on Babcock's door. Did time itself simply cause Holland to reflect on his team's leadership? My guess is, because of the one year contract he offered Lewis, Holland never had complete faith in Lewis, and maybe would not have hesitated to replace him in the middle of the 2004-05 season, had there been one. I think he decided to give Lewie another training camp and maybe even another full season, but anything less than at least a Conference Finals appearance would have doomed the coach. So maybe Holland just figured, "Hey, it's been a year and I still don't have faith in Dave Lewis, so let's just do something now, now that it appears there will indeed be a 2005-06 season."

My thoughts? Dave Lewis was probably placed in mostly a no-win situation as Red Wings coach. But he knew that going in. I'm sure if he had his druthers, his NHL head coaching debut wouldn't have come following the legendary Bowman. But it was what it was. Lewis, I hope and think, will be a head coach somewhere else in the league, where the pressure to win may not be so great. Then maybe we'll truly find out what kind of an NHL coach Dave Lewis is. As for Mike Babcock, or whomever replaces Lewis? You don't have nearly as tough as an act to follow. That makes the Red Wings coaching job even more attractive than normal.

But it doesn't necessarily make it any easier.

1 comment:

mickey said...

When you get it right Greg, you get it right..I feel better now.. I agreed with you!