NHL: Blue Jackets Officially Hire Mike Babcock as Their Head Coach

The final NHL head coaching vacancy has been filled.

Before the free agency period started, the Columbus Blue Jackets have officially named Mike Babcock as their new head coach. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the former Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach was signed to a two-year deal that will pay him $4 million each season.

Early reports from the day of Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final from TSN’s Darren Dreger said of speculation around the Memorial Cup about Babcock being the team’s new bench boss. However, since, at that time, he was still under contract with the Maple Leafs until the last day of June, Columbus waited until the first day of July to make the hire to ensure Toronto was the only team paying out the remainder of his eight-year, $50 million contract.

Fans Have Mixed Reaction to Babcock Hiring

It’s easy to see why fans would be divided in this reaction, including lots of upset fans. For many, the first thing that comes to mind is the verbal abuse allegations against him for the way he treated both Johan Franzen and Mitch Marner. Franzen’s career ended because of concussion problems that Babcock didn’t take seriously.

Babcock also drove a rookie Marner to tears when he asked him to create a list of all the players on the roster to rank them based on effort, and with the coach perceiving Marner as lazy, Marner put himself last on the list. Babcock took the list and was believed to have shown it to two players in particular, veterans Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri. That puts a rookie in a truly terrible situation, especially considering the two forwards Babcock showed the list to are centers.

There was also the fact that both former NHL veterans Mike Commodore and Mark Fraser spoke out on Babcock’s treatment of his former players. While back then, people brushed it off as former players salty about the ways their careers ended, even though Fraser played a single exhibition game under Babcock, there is truth to their statements.

Former Players Previously Speaking Out on Babcock

While Commodore made angry tweets at Babcock, he said on the third tweet of a series of tweets directed to his former bench boss that “your players quit on you. They quit on you because you are a terrible human being. You are an average coach with an extremely oversized ego.”

Seeing that Commodore was under fire for the comments. Fraser came to his defense, with a thread saying that Babcock has done truly terrible things to his players.

“With the ability to end players careers, he’s chosen to do so to long serving vets that have resulted in all his players turning against him,” tweeted Fraser. “He’s used his power to turn teammates against each other, and choose to continuously lie to his players. … [Commodore’s] speaking for countless players who have personally told me their terrible stories of [Babcock] just being a bad guy. He’s speaking for all the #MapleLeafs who wouldn’t dare speak the truth right now, but damn sure want to.”

That’s not to mention that in March of 2019, NHL legend Chris Chelios was giving an interview of the firing of Joel Quenneville, and in that interview, he threw Babcock under the bus without being prompted to do so, talking about how “no one really knowing [Franzen] was suffering with the concussion thing and the depression thing, he just broke down and had nervous breakdown, not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville.” This really sounds like Babcock has made a lot of enemies as a head coach.

Blue Jackets Make a Huge Gamble

What Jarmo Kekäläinen is making is a huge gamble, and he better hope that he gets the results from thsi because one can say that his job as the Blue Jackets’ general manager is on the line based on this decision alone. And it’s easy to see why this is a huge gamble. Babcock has not coached in the NHL since getting fired in the middle of the 2019-20 season with Toronto. Nobody wants to see a head coach in the middle of verbal abuse allegations.

The big question is this: If Kekäläinen and the Blue Jackets pride themselves in hiring people who bring high character to the organization, why are they hiring someone who brings the exact opposite of high character? They have to be truly comfortable to hire someone like him and know what they’re getting themselves into.

Maybe he has changed his ways. It could work. If he can learn from his past and be the coach the team needs, there is a path for it to work. But that’s not a guarantee, even though he has a 700-418-183 record over parts of 17 seasons, and is the only member of the “Triple Gold” club among coaches (Olympic Gold, World Championships, and a Stanley Cup). It’s also fair to wonder if some of his players don’t respond to the way he handles things. Then what?

If the team feels like they need to bring someone like him to bring order back, one can say it tells them everything they need to know about the 2022-23 season under previous head coach Brad Larsen. But who could help develop the younger players while getting the most out of the veterans? They have to ask themselves if Babcock is truly the answer. Otherwise, we could see a mass cleanup at all levels of the organization.

Written by Alec Nava

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