Mike Babcock and his Canadian Olympic men's hockey team coaching staff likely don't have enough hours in the day to dedicate to their respective NHL clubs, but they will make room to talk Team Canada in the runup to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
When Babcock and his Detroit Red Wings visited Toronto on Saturday, the passionate head coach revealed that beginning this week, he will conduct conference calls with assistant coaches Ken Hitchcock, Jacques Lemaire and Lindy Ruff every fortnight in preparation for the 2010 Olympics.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the first three Olympics that NHL players participated in, it's that the Stanley Cup champions played well prior to the break in order to rest up and coast into the playoffs. Here is a breakdown of the pre- and post-Olympic records of the championship teams in Winter Games years.
"We haven't talked much since" a summer orientation camp, Babcock said. "I've talked to Hitch once and Lindy once, but I haven't talked to Jacques. We're all trying to survive right now in our old jobs."
Babcock is looking up at his three compatriots with a 7-5-3 record. Lemaire and his New Jersey Devils lead the Canadian Olympic team coaching battle at 11-4-0, followed by Hitchcock and the Columbus Blue Jackets at 9-5-2 and Ruff and the Buffalo Sabres at 9-4-1.
Sure, Babcock sees Detroit general manager Ken Holland, who is on Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman's management team, as well as Wings vice-president Yzerman on a regular basis. But the head coach stated that he enjoyed last week, when Yzerman and the management team gathered in Detroit. The group discussed the up-and-downs of the candidates for the Olympic squad.
How much input will Babcock have with management in the final roster, which will be announced on New Year's Eve?
"I will have lots of input, and so will everyone else," Babcock said. "In the end, just like on all teams, the management gives you the team, but if the coach is uncomfortable with a player, he's not going to play."
When the players gathered in Calgary for the summer orientation camp, Babcock, Lemaire, Hitchcock and Ruff outlined a system, detailed the style of play they want Canada to and discussed possible line combinations in Vancouver. As a group, they felt they had a good foundation in place.
But one wonders: Has Babcock, from behind Detroit's bench, been scouting opposing players for Team Canada?
For example, last week the Red Wings played host to the San Jose Sharks, a team that has three candidates for the Canadian team in Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and defenceman Dan Boyle.
"I'd be looking at those players anyway because they have the puck all the time," Babcock said. "The good players on the other team, you know who they are, and I don't think that is any different than any other year.
"It was a good opportunity for me because Pavel [Datsyuk] played against Marleau and [Henrik] Zetterberg played head-to-head against Thornton. Those are great matchups. I thought Marleau and Thornton played great against us, and I noticed Boyle because he had the puck a lot.
"That happens every night. When they play great, you see it. When they are silent, and I'm not looking that they didn't do anything, I just didn't notice them."