Columbus Blue Jackets and Mike Babcock: 3 things to know about likely coach

Detroit Free Press

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The Columbus Blue Jackets appear to have chosen Mike Babcock to replace Brad Larsen as head coach. 

Babcock, 60, hasn’t worked in the NHL since 2019 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and will bring two things to Columbus ― success at the highest levels of the sport and a load of ugly baggage.

He’s a Stanley Cup champion, a world champion, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada and, according to former players, is a manipulative bully. He’s also “old school” in many regards and will inherit a team that, as currently constructed, remains one of the NHL’s youngest groups. 

Here are three things to know about Babcock:

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Mike Babcock is one of the most accomplished coaches in hockey

Babcock’s resume is jaw-dropping. 

He has guided teams to the Stanley Cup Final three times, hoisting the Cup in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings, and has coached Canadian national teams to gold medal glory an astounding five times ― including Winter Olympics in Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014).

Babcock also guided Canada to gold medals at the world junior championship (1997), world championship (2004) and World Cup of Hockey championship (2017).

He ranks 12th all-time among NHL coaches in wins (700) and has coached three teams in a 17-year career ― the Anaheim Ducks, Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Among coaches who’ve logged at least 1,000 NHL games, Babcock’s .608 winning percentage is fourth all-time behind Scotty Bowman (.657), Bruce Boudreau (.626) and Joel Quenneville (.612). 

He went 69-62-14 with 19 ties in two seasons with the Ducks (2002-04), had his most success at 458-223-105 in 10 seasons with Detroit (2005-15) and went 173-133-45 in five seasons with the Maple Leafs (2015-19). 

Toronto fired him in November 2019 amid a lackluster 9-10-4 start.

Mike Babcock described as ‘bully’ by former Detroit Red Wings forward

It didn’t take long after Babcock’s dismissal in Toronto for reports about his verbally abusive demeanor and manipulative behavior with the Maple Leafs and Red Wings to surface. 

A couple of weeks after Babcock’s firing in Toronto, former Red Wings forward Johan Franzen spoke with Expressen, a Swedish media outlet, and said his former coach was a “bully” who went after people with regularity. 

After calling Babcock a great coach for his success on the ice, Franzen said, “He’s a terrible person, the worst I ever met. He’s a bully who was attacking people. It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.” 

Franzen confirmed to Expressen a story first told on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast by former Red Wings star Chris Chelios, who described an incident during a playoff game in Nashville when Babcock verbally abused Franzen. Chelios said Franzen had a “nervous breakdown” on both the bench and inside the room at Bridgestone Arena after the game.

“I get the shivers when I think about it,” Franzen told the Swedish news outlet. “That incident occurred against Nashville in the playoffs. It was coarse, nasty and shocking. But that was just one out of a hundred things he did. The tip of the iceberg.”

In Toronto, Babcock was taken to task for a motivational tactic he tried in 2016-17 with then-rookie Mitch Marner. According to a report in the Toronto Sun, Babcock asked the young forward to rank his teammates based on work habits. Babcock, according to the report, revealed what Marner thought was confidential information — including comments about center Tyler Bozak — to the entire team.

Babcock addressed the issue two years later during an interview with The Athletic.

The coach took responsibility, but also took issue with some of the details. Babcock said he asked Marner to rank himself, not other players, and he denies the information was posted for the entire team to see. He did admit that information from Marner’s rankings was used in a conversation with Bozak, which Babcock says he apologized to Marner for doing.

Babcock, while taking responsibility, said he regrets not addressing his mistake with the entire team.

Mike Babcock doesn’t work for cheap, will push Columbus Blue Jackets to make changes

The Blue Jackets haven’t officially announced Babcock as their new coach because they’re waiting for his contract with Toronto to expire on June 30.

That deal was an eight-year contract worth $50 million that made him the highest-paid coach in the NHL, earning an average of $6.25 million per season. It would be a surprise if his salary with the Blue Jackets approaches that annual figure, but don’t be surprised if it’s in the $4-5 million a year range. 

Also don’t be surprised to see Babcock push Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to make immediate roster changes to add veteran talent over developing youngsters. He did spend one season at the helm of a bad team in Toronto, which led to the Maple Leafs winning the Auston Matthews sweepstakes in the 2016 NHL draft, but that’s not Babcock’s modus operandi.

His teams in Detroit were filled with established veterans and he pushed former Red Wings GM Ken Holland behind the scenes to sacrifice valuable assets — such as first-round picks and salary-cap space — to acquire older players.

Holland made several big mistakes along these lines, starting with a 2012 mid-season trade that sent Detroit’s first-round pick that year to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Kyle Quincey, a slow-footed defenseman. Quincey didn’t do much in Detroit, but the Lightning used the pick to select goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy 19th overall.

Vasilevskiy has since turned into a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP, Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best netminder and has played in four Cup finals.

Babcock was also the Red Wings’ coach when Holland signed veteran center Stephen Weiss in 2013 to a five-year contract worth $24.5 million. Weiss, who was 30, played parts of two injury-plagued seasons before Holland bought out the remaining three years. 

The buyout slashed the cap hit for Weiss and freed up a roster spot, but it also kept the contract on Detroit’s cap calculation at a lower rate for three years longer than originally scheduled.Get more Columbus Blue Jackets talk on the Cannon Fodder Podcast

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