With the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games, the NHL's arguable best coach is set to become a free agent. On June 31st Mike Babcock's contract with Detroit will expire, and at this point it does not seem as though he will resign in Detroit. So now we have to consider some of his potential landing spots. Buffalo, Edmonton, Philadelphia, and Toronto have been the most mentioned destinations. All of them have there own benefits, and all of them are looking for a coach. Only one of them is the favorite though.
Toronto is the least likely of these four teams to get Mike Babcock as their coach. The benefit of going there would be you are coaching one of the leagues classic franchises in the biggest hockey market in the world. That could also be a bad thing though. You're prone to harsher treatment from the fans and the media. The Leafs would also be willing to spend enough to out bid some teams. Another thing Toronto could offer is complete power. The other teams have general managers. The Leafs could offer him control of the entire hockey department, if that's appealing to him. Problem with Toronto is the team is the worst off of any of the other three. The team is not well of in the prospect pool and the current team is one of the worst in the league. Will Babcock want to come to a team ready to trade it's best two players in Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel? The team is about to enter a rebuilding phase, and I would be stunned if Toronto was Babcock's choice.
Philadelphia is interesting. They have elite players in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Both top 10 players in this league. The team overall is kind of average however. Samuel Morin will make the blue line look a little more promising, but there isn't much there. Ron Hextall seems like a bafoon as the general manager, so I don't think Babcock would like to work under him. The team may not be able to pay as much as the others, as they would have a limit to what they would spend on a coach.
Edmonton is overrated as a choice. It's been said that Babcock wants to coach McDavid, but there's got to be a limit. Does Babcock really want to pick up and move to Edmonton, Alberta? Almost surely not. The team has insane young talent up front, but has nothing on the back end past Darnell Nurse. They also have arguably the worst goaltending situation in the NHL. He would not get a lot of power with Peter Chiarelli now in charge, and Craig MacTavish floating around. Edmonton probably won't be a realistic option.
The Sabres are the favorites. The team has the best young centers in the NHL with Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Mikhail Grigorenko, and the impending arrival of Jack Eichel. The team has a great young core of defenseman led by Ristolanein, Zadorov, and Pysyk. The team has a very good balance of young and veteran wingers like Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, and Tyler Ennis who I feel broke out last season. The team's only hole is goaltending and they will have plenty of options in the offseason. Another thing Buffalo has is Terry Pegula. Terry will outbid any other team, so if Babcock wants the best team and the most money, he'll come to Buffalo. That's why the Sabres are the favorites.
There is also always the possibility he returns to Detroit. We have to remember he left Anaheim after going to the Stanley Cup there, so it would not be beyond him to leave a team that's had success. Detroit has a good young core led by Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Dylan Larkin, and Anthony Mantha, but the team doesn't have that elite guy for the future. Buffalo, Edmonton, and Philadelphia have that.