There have been a number of sensational coaching jobs in the NHL this year.
Paul MacLean has kept a battered and bruised Ottawa Senators team afloat all year. Michel Therrien led the Montreal Canadiens from 15th and dead last in the Eastern Conference to the upper reaches of the conference.
Joel Quenneville had the Chicago Blackhawks playing sharp hockey all season, and they became the President's Trophy winner. Bruce Boudreau did a special job with the Anaheim Ducks, taking a bottom-feeder and turning it into the second-place team in the Western Conference.
And what about Randy Carlyle? He led the Toronto Maple Leafs to their first playoff appearance since 2003-04.
One of those five could easily win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year.
However, the best coach in the NHL is Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings. He may not be in consideration for coach of the year honors in 2013, but he lives up to the high praise that former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips once had for the Miami Dolphins' legendary head coach Don Shula (per The New York Times).
"Don Shula can take his'n and beat your'n, or he can take your'n and beat his'n."
Phillips' thick Texas accent and lack of proper grammar didn't obscure his point. Shula was the best coach in the NFL.
Babcock put on a coaching clinic this week. When the Red Wings began play Monday, they were on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The Red Wings had made the playoffs 21 straight years, but they were in danger of getting edged out by the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
As tenuous as their position was, the Red Wings at least had control of their own destiny. They had four games against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars.
If the Red Wings could beat all four teams—in a six-day span—the Wings would make the playoffs. If they won three of four, they would need help to get in.
The Wings won all four in decisive fashion. They waxed the desperate Coyotes 4-0. A day later, they took care of business 3-1 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. Two days later, they outlasted the Predators 5-2.
After those three home wins, the Red Wings went on the road and defeated the Stars 3-0. Captain Henrik Zetterberg scored the first two goals to give the Red Wings control of the game, and they closed out the game by choking off the Dallas offense.
Four nearly perfect games with the heat on the franchise. You can look at the outstanding play of Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and goalie Jimmy Howard as the main reasons why the Red Wings have returned to the playoffs once again.
You would have a good portion of the answer but not the whole story. Babcock is the glue that holds this team together.
As he peers over the ice from his spot behind the bench, Babcock's visage is intense. His glare is hawk-like. He simply does not miss a thing.
He puts his players in favorable positions and gets the best matchups more often than not. He motivates his team as few others do. He can light up his team when he has to, but it's more about saying the right words to individual players that gets them to play their best game.
He's also a superb strategist. He knows how to position his players so they can exploit opponents' weaknesses and take advantage of their own strengths.
Babcock has a sensational record. He took the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03, his rookie season as an NHL head coach. He missed the playoffs his next year in Anaheim before moving to the Detroit Red Wings.
He has not missed the playoffs since. His Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2007-08, and they got to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final the following year before they dropped a one-goal decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Babcock was also the coach of the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic hockey team in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
NHL.com managing editor Shawn Roarke agrees that Babcock is the best coach in the NHL.
"The reason is because he relates to all kinds of players and gets the most out of them by finding a role for them in the team that best suits their skill set," Roarke said. "Plus, as he proved at the Olympics, he has the requisite ego and the cult of personality to deal with superstar players and bend them to the good of the club."
Babcock has proven he can coach in all situations. However, what separates him from the rest is his ability to coach in pressure situations.
He did it again this week, and the Red Wings are in the playoffs yet again. Babcock can look in the mirror and know that his team did what was required this week.
He also knows that the first part of the journey is over. The second part—the Stanley Cup playoffs—is at hand.
The Red Wings have a tough matchup with the Ducks, but with Babcock behind the bench, the Red Wings are going to make the most of their opportunity.
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