MONTREAL – Mike Babcock always makes a stop at his alma mater McGill University when he visits Montreal.
This week, the Detroit Red Wings coach took time out to play in an alumni game at McGill, then helped out head coach Martin Raymond at a Redmen practice Friday.
“My groin is killing me,” Babcock said Saturday
But the McGill captain from the 1980s is most conspicuous this week for being the lone member of the Stanley Cup-champion Red Wings to attend the NHL all-star game.
His team elected to keep star defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom and forward Pavel Datsyuk out even though they were voted on to the Western Conference team for the all-star game Sunday at the Bell Centre.
The league reacted by enforcing a new rule, borrowed from the NBA, that will bar Lidstrom and Datsyuk from playing in the Wings’ next regular-season game Tuesday in Columbus.
“In Detroit, we’re all about selling the league,” Babcock said as the all-star coaches addressed reporters before practices that drew about 20,000 screaming fans, mostly young kids. “We do a good job of that.
“We have a nice team. Nick Lidstrom has been here nine years in a row. He has some tendinitis in his elbows, and has all year long. He’s not playing . . . Pavel Daysyuk left a one-goal game after the first time out in the third period. We’re in the winning business. We try to win our games. So I think that pretty much sums all that up”
In fact, when Lidstrom and Datsyuk pulled out, the league asked for other Red Wings players and were turned down
But their Western Conference rivals aren’t crying foul, even though the Wings may gain an advantage by resting their stars while the top players from other clubs are all at the game.
Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla said he understands if the veteran Lidstrom, who has been to 10 all-star games, opts to sit one out. He said it’s good players are now aware of the league’s stand on the issue.
“Lidstrom’s been at a lot of all-star games and he’s played a lot of long seasons, which is a good thing – you want to win championships,” said Iginla. “I don’t think as players here we judge that situation.
“A lot of us would love to be in that situation, where you’ve had longer seasons and been in so many all-star games.”
Babcock will act as an assistant coach to Todd McLellan of the conference-leading San Jose Sharks, a reversal of roles from last season, when McLellan was Babcock’s assistant in Detroit.
Even more interesting is the Eastern Conference duo of head coach Claude Julien of Boston and assistant Guy Carbonneau of Montreal.
When Julien was fired as coach of the Canadiens in 2005, Carbonneau was brought in as associate coach to general manager Bob Gainey for the rest of the season, then took over on a full-time basis for 2006-’07.
Neither head coach acknowledged any misgivings about working with his assistant
“A lot has been made of those roles,” said McLellan, whose Sharks sport the NHL’s best record of 34-6-5. “We’re lucky to be coaching two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
“There isn’t an assistant or ahead coach here as far as I’m concerned. We’re here as friends and mates and we’ll have a lot of fun together.”
Julien has spent much of the past two weeks downplaying the drama of coaching with a rival he has had shouting matches with in tight games and playoff series. The two were chatting amicably before meeting the media
“I think we should leave the rivalry where it should be, and that’s during the regular season,” said Julien, whose club has the best record in the East at 34-8-5. “I think the rivalry that’s been created between the two teams has been nothing but great for hockey.
“Having said that, we’re here together. We’re both people that are extremely proud competitors, but we’re able to put that aside and work together with no issues at all.”
“We’re both competitors and I think that during a game, sometimes things happen and things are said,” Carbonneau said. “But I’ve done this as a player and I had no problem going out after the game and having a beer with the players.
“So this weekend’s going to be great.”
Julien said he had yet to make up his lines or defence pairings for the game. He’s not sure if it’s up to him to decide who would replace injured Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby in his starting lineup or if the league would make that decision. Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning was added to the team when Crosby pulled out.
McLellan and Babcock had their lines posted in the dressing room.
They have Ryan Getzlaf at centre between Chicago teammates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane; Keith Tkachuk between Rick Nash and Milan Hejduk; Mike Modano centring Shane Doan and Dustin Brown; and captain Joe Thornton between Patrick Marleau and Iginla.
The defence pairings are Brian Campbell with Shea Weber; a super-attack pair of Scott Niedermayer and Dan Boyle; and Sheldon Souray with Stephane Robidas.
Souray, now with Edmonton, and Robidas, a Dallas Star, played as a duo in 2000-’01 with Montreal.
“We’re the shut-down pair,” quipped Souray. “Actually, if I get out of here a minus-5 I’m lucky.”