Mike Babcock, the coach with a Stanley Cup championship and two Olympic gold medals to his credit, lost his last two NHL jobs.
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Last time it was for losing too many matches. This time it was for his interactions with players who were following a disturbing pattern of past behavior.
Babcock resigned as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday after just two months on the job, less than a week after his requests for personal photos of players in a rapprochement effort drew criticism as too intrusive.
The team announced Babcock’s abrupt departure following an investigation by the NHL Players’ Association into his conduct. Pascal Vincent was named Babcock’s replacement and signed a two-year contract until the 2024-25 season.
“Our players deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace,” said NHLPA general manager Marty Walsh. “Unfortunately, that was not the case in Columbus. The club’s decision to move forward with a new head coach is the appropriate course of action.
Former NHL player Paul Bissonnette reported on his podcast Tuesday that Babcock asked players to show him photos and project them for others to see, which constitutes an invasion of privacy. Babcock and captain Boone Jenner denied the report, saying it was simply a way for the new coach to get to know the players.
Nonetheless, the players’ union launched a study and informed the league Friday of its findings.
“It was a difficult decision on everyone’s part, but we deemed it necessary to ensure our focus remained on the players and the team’s upcoming season,” said general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a press release. “On behalf of the entire Blue Jackets organization, we would like to thank Mike for his hard work and professionalism in working together on a resignation plan.”
Babcock’s conduct has come under scrutiny given his history of polarizing and old-school coaching techniques, many of which came to light after he was fired by Toronto in 2019. It was his first NHL job Since.
“Upon reflection, it became clear that continuing as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets was going to be too much of a distraction,” Babcock said. “While I am disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to continue the work we started, I know it is in the best interest of the organization for me to step aside now. I wish everyone in the organization good luck for the upcoming season.
Babcock, the 2008 Stanley Cup-winning coach with Detroit, said upon accepting the Columbus job in July that he had evolved as a coach and learned to better manage players after he was fired by Toronto.
A report surfaced after the Maple Leafs fired Babcock that he asked a player to share his ranking of his teammates, from hardest to least hardworking, and then shared it with the rest of the group. Other former players expressed dissatisfaction with Babcock, who at one point was considered the best coach in hockey.
Instead, Babcock’s time in the NHL could be over, and that raises questions about Kekalainen’s future in Columbus.
Babcock is the third coach Kekalainen has hired since he took over in February 2013. The Blue Jackets have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
Vincent, who turns 52 later this month, was one of the candidates for the job when Babcock got it. He was an assistant on former coach Brad Larsen’s staff for the previous two seasons, following four years as coach of the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
Kekalainen called Vincent an exceptional coach who “knows our players and our organization and is respected by everyone here.”
“He was a good candidate for our head coaching position several months ago and is best suited to help us navigate this change as we begin camp and lead our team forward,” said Kekalainen.
Vincent said it was a tough day but he was looking forward to the opportunity.
“We have a great group of guys who have worked really hard to prepare for the season,” he said. “My goal will be to work with our staff to help them improve every day and be ready for what we think will be an exciting season.”
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