TRAVERSE CITY, MI – When these allegations first surfaced, the Blue Jackets, the NHL Players Association and the NHL believed that Mike Babcock’s request to see cell phone photos of his players was an innocent, if embarrassing, interaction by a new coach to get to know his players.
But in the days that followed, the story, first revealed by Paul Bissonnette on “Spittin’ Chiclets,” began to take a very different shape.
These interactions were certainly deemed acceptable by veteran players Boone Jenner and Johnny Gaudreau, who have made public statements in Babcock’s defense. But the NHLPA began getting more input from other players — inside the Blue Jackets’ locker room and perhaps outside it — and that was far more damaging, as interactions were portrayed as nothing less than an invasion of privacy by players who didn’t feel empowered. Veteran coach resistance.
Burning question: Did the Blue Jackets know the extent of Babcock’s interactions with players when this was first revealed? If they knew the extent of this story and tried to bury it before it started, that says not-so-great things about the club’s decision-makers, from president of hockey operations John Davidson to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and others.
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But if they don’t know how invasive Babcock is of privacy, that says something that should really worry the Blue Jackets — right down to the ownership level.
This may indicate that Blue Jackets players — veterans and/or young players — feel more comfortable speaking their truth to people like Bissonnette and the NHLPA than to the people in charge of the Blue Jackets organization. If so, the McConnell family — like any ownership group in professional sports — may have to demand answers.
Babcock resigned on Sunday, less than three months after his July 1 appointment, and issued a strongly worded statement indicating he would step down because he would be “too much of a distraction” if he remained in his position. Nowhere in his statement did he acknowledge completely unacceptable behaviour.
Babcock probably didn’t even realize he crossed the line with the players. While this may be his best defense, it would also be proof that he learned absolutely nothing from the mistakes he made with former players when he was coaching the Maple Leafs and Red Wings.
Don’t take this in a roundabout way: this is not evidence that society is too “woke” to deal with a demanding coach with unusual tactics. It’s not about young players being expected to be treated like children or being too soft to play for an old school coach.
This is unacceptable behavior at any level, with any player, in any generation. Looking through someone’s phone is worse than looking through their wallet or wallet. As one former NHL coach said The athlete: “What happened to lunch or coffee?”
Bissonnette, a former player and current television analyst, has already done the Blue Jackets a huge favor here. As painful as these last few days have been — gosh, the Blue Jackets’ prospects have looked great in the Traverse City Tournament, by the way — it was important to confront this as quickly as possible.
The most important thing is to do the right thing, no matter how painful it is. They did the right thing by moving on from Babcock, but now there is more work to be done.
They better hope the locker room doesn’t get screwed over this. (One of the players, in a text message to The athletesaid the players remain united.) It is best not to let the players who did not appreciate Babcock’s actions take any of the blame for this early season distraction.
This organization includes some highly respected veterans, such as Jenner, Godreau, Zach Werenski, Sean Kuraly, and Erik Gudbranson. But they have an impressive cadre of young players, including Adam Fantelli, Kent Johnson and Cole Selinger, who need to be developed in the right way within a healthy culture.
While Babcock did not take any of the blame for his well-worded statement through the club, that falls entirely on him. Davidson and Kekalainen will face some tough questions on Monday during the club’s annual media day, which has now been hijacked by this story.
The Blue Jackets took a big risk by signing Babcock. The majority owner, John H. McConnell, would be wise to demand answers from Davidson or Kekalainen, or whoever was more adamant about hiring him.
This is another long line of embarrassing moments the Blue Jackets have had over the years. There’s the phallic-shaped mascot, Boomer, which was shelved in 2010 after just one game. The raging incompetence of the Doug McLean era. Having to beg Jeff Carter to accept a trade from Philadelphia to Columbus and trade for him one year later. Pierre-Luc Dubois resigns from the franchise midway through the game.
Despite all this, the Blue Jackets, who have made it past the first round of the playoffs just once — including five playoff appearances during Kekalainen’s 10-year tenure — have a loyal and passionate fan base that deserves better.
The only saving grace is that the terrible decision to hire Mike Babcock backfired, before he had time to do any more damage.
(Mike Babcock Photo: Kyle Robertson/USA Today)
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