Is Mike Babcock the Columbus Blue Jackets’ new coach?

Detroit Free Press

The Blue Jackets appear to be in a holding pattern to name a new head coach they’ve already picked.

According to Sportsnet, Mike Babcock will be named the 11th head coach in Blue Jackets history.

The holdup, according to TSN, is an eight-year, $50 million contract that Babcock signed in 2015 to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. The contract doesn’t end until July 1, which coincides with the NHL’s start of free agency. After it expires, Babcock will be a free agent who can sign with a new team without interference from the Maple Leafs.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen declined to confirm or deny the reports about Babcock and didn’t offer new information on the search for Brad Larsen’s replacement.

“We’re still doing our due diligence and we’ll get to it when the time’s right,” Kekalainen said. “Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more.”

Kekalainen was asked whether “due diligence” means he and the front office were still sorting through options with multiple candidates.

“There’s all kinds of due diligence,” he said. “I can’t say anything more and we’re still in the process.”

Babcock, 60, has coached the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and Maple Leafs during a 17-year NHL career behind the bench. He is 12th all-time in wins with a 700-418-164 record with 19 ties in 1,301 games. He won the 2008 Stanley Cup with the Red Wings and took the Ducks to the Cup final in 2003 before falling to the New Jersey Devils.

He has also coached Canadian national teams to gold medals at two Winter Olympics, the men’s world championship, the world junior championship and the world cup of hockey.

Babcock’s tenure in Toronto ended badly. He was fired in November 2019 and former players from the Maple Leafs and Red Wings came forward with tales of Babcock “bullying” players, staffers and even arena employees in Toronto and Detroit.

Babcock didn’t coach anywhere this season and told a Toronto newspaper he was enjoying retirement. In 2021-22, he ran the bench for the University of Saskatchewan in the Canadian USports division, hiring his 28-year old son, Michael, as one of his assistants. In 2020-21, Babcock was a senior advisor for the University of Vermont’s NCAA hockey program.

Kekalainen said it’s not vital to have a coach in place before the NHL draft, which will be held June 27-28. The opening of free agency July 1 carries more importance for having a coach, especially while speaking with players to sell them on a team’s roster and future.

“We want to do this as soon as it’s possible,” Kekalainen said of naming a hire. “(Ultimately), it’s important to have a coach in place for training camp.”

Kekalainen has final say on which coach is picked, but he’s consulting with the rest of the front office and the team’s player leadership group. Players have already been consulted on one or more candidates, but it’s unknown whether Babcock was one of them.

“I respect their opinion, because they are our leaders for a reason,” Kekalainen said. “We always listen to them and respect their opinion, but at the end of the day, we may not always agree. Most of the time we do and then I make the decision.”

The Blue Jackets are also looking for a new goaltending coach, which might not be resolved until a new head coach is named and consulted.

bhedger@dispatch.com

@BrianHedger

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