F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second acts in American lives,” but that is dead wrong. Martha Stewart is on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, isn’t she? America loves redemption. Tiger Woods, for instance, is on his second redemption. Or maybe his third. It’s hard to keep track.
Presently, the Blue Jackets are one of five NHL teams with a coaching vacancy. The others are the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. There may be more coming (Pittsburgh? Toronto?).
One of these teams is probably going to hire Mike Babcock, who requires redemption. According to New York Post hockey columnist Larry Brooks, the team might be the Blue Jackets. All I can add is that Babcock has some support in the Jackets’ hockey operations department, and his candidacy is a serious one.
Babcock has won 700 NHL games, one Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals, among other things.
Someone else is probably going to hire Joel Quenneville, who not only requires redemption but also needs the blessing of league commissioner Gary Bettman. I don’t think the Jackets are going the Q route because their timeline for naming a coach is ahead of Bettman’s timeline for Quenneville’s potential reinstatement.
Quenneville has won 969 NHL games – he’s second on the all-time list behind Scotty Bowman – and three Stanley Cups.
I think the Jackets are going to promote associate coach Pascal Vincent, but that is just guesswork on my part. I don’t discount anything or anyone, not Babcock, not even Quenneville.
As Tom Petty tells us in “Lonesome Sundown,” redemption comes to those who wait, and forgiveness is the key. How long must one wait to be redeemed? That is the question. The court of public opinion is fanciful.
Babcock, 60, was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019 with four years remaining on his contract. On his way out the door, he was accused of verbal and psychological abuse by a number of former players. Two anecdotes stand out.
No. 1: The Toronto Sun reported that, in Mitch Marner’s rookie season of 2016-17, Babcock asked Marner to make a list of veterans on the team and rank them first-to-last in terms of work ethic. That list was shared with at least one veteran.
As Babcock has sought atonement, he has described a lesson gone awry, admitted he’d make a mistake and said he apologized to Marner.
No. 2: During a playoff game in 2008, Babcock, then the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, launched a verbal attack on Johan Franzen that sent a chill through the Detroit bench.
Franzen, whose career was shortened by post-concussion syndrome, told a Swedish newspaper that he feared going to the rink when Babcock was his coach. He said Babcock is, “a terrible person. The worst I ever met. He’s a bully who was attacking people. It could be anyone.”
This is how Babcock was portrayed on his way out the door in Toronto, a notably tough media market in the Center of the Hockey Universe: as calculating and verbally abusive. Is it a major stretch to say that John Tortorella was similarly portrayed on his way out of New York or Vancouver? How might Pierre-Luc Dubois describe Tortorella’s dark side in Columbus?
Do these portrayals describe the full measure of a man or a coach?
Certainly, Babcock has reasons to take a long look in the mirror. What does he see now? Does he need to apologize to anyone? He has waited four years for his next opportunity, but is that long enough? Will fans accept him? Will players?
Quenneville was forced to step down from his job as coach of the Florida Panthers in 2021, when the past caught up with his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Lawsuits were flying. The suits were based on allegations of sexual abuse, the alleged perpetrator was a former Blackhawks video coach, Brad Aldrich, and one of the victims was a former Blackhawks player, Kyle Beach.
The Blackhawks covered it up for 10 years.
Quenneville was in the room when the allegations were first discussed in 2010, just after the Blackhawks won the Western Conference title and just before they won the Stanley Cup. Quenneville has been depicted as being worried, at the time, about his team losing focus amid a circus of bad PR. He left the room with the belief that the team president was going to address the issue.
Quenneville said nothing.
Three weeks passed before a team executive reported the incident to the HR department. Aldrich was given an option – either resign or be investigated. Aldrich chose the former. At one of his next jobs, on the hockey staff at Miami University in Oxford, he was accused of sexual assault (no charges were filed). He was later convicted of criminal sexual assault and sentenced to nine months in jail in Michigan. The victim was a high-school player.
I’ve read the 69-page report more than once. It shoots down one of the common, public grievances against Quenneville, that he provided Aldrich a job recommendation. He did not. In the grand scheme of things, does that matter?
Quenneville was one of many men – with team president John McDonough, GM Stan Bowman and assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, among others – who were in the room in 2010. They all let Aldrich loose. What is Quenneville’s culpability? Cheveldayoff’s involvement in the cover-up has been called “slight” and he has kept his GM job in Winnipeg. Is that comparable?
Can Quenneville (or, for that matter, Cheveldayoff, or any of them) ever forgive himself? Has he apologized to Aldrich’s victims? Can they forgive him?
Can Quenneville be redeemed?
If so, when? And where?