Only six weeks ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets hired Mike Babcock as head coach. This provided him with a second chance at his NHL coaching career after it was derailed by prior poor conduct when head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He hasn’t even coached a training camp practice or a pre-season game, and his time is over.
“And that change never came”
It was officially announced Sunday, As of September 17th, Mike Babcock has resigned as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As covered here at Crier Media, this comes after investigations by the team, NHL and NHLPA into the 60-year-old Babcock’s conduct during his brief time with the club. The club also announced that associate coach Pascal Vincent has taken over as head coach, agreeing to a two-year contract through next season.
Former NHL player Paul Bissonnette said on a recent edition “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast that Babcock asked Columbus captain Boone Jenner to show him his camera roll before displaying those photos via AirPlay on the coach’s office wall. GM Jarmo Kekalainen announced via Columbus social media today that:
“Upon reflection, it has become clear that continuing as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets was going to be too much of a distraction,” Babcock said in a statement released by the team. “While I’m disappointed to not have had the opportunity to continue the work we’ve begun, I know it’s in the best interest of the organization for me to step away at this time. I wish everyone in the organization well in the upcoming season.”
Jarmo Kekalainen said in the same release. “On behalf of the entire Blue Jackets organization, we want to thank Mike for his hard work and the professionalism he has shown in working together on a plan to step down”. Furthermore, Kekalainen also issued a statement on his new head coach, Pascal Vincent. “Pascal Vincent is an outstanding coach,” said Kekalainen. “He knows our players and organization and is respected by everyone here. He was a strong candidate for our head coaching position several months ago and is in the best position to help us navigate this change as we begin camp and lead our team moving forward.”
Babcock and the Blue Jackets immediately called the report from Bissonnette a mischaracterization of what had happened. Despite the full-throated denials, former Bissonnette stood by his story, repeating that he had confirmation from more people following his podcast episode. There was also Mike Commodore, an outspoken former Detroit Red Wings defenseman who played under Babcock, who said that he heard similar stories about other Blue Jackets players. This was followed by another former Red WIngs defenseman under Babcock, Aaron Ward, who did not confirm the reports, but was clear that this was in line with the usual attitude, approach and atmosphere that Babcock likes to create when he is coach.
Per Sportsnet, NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh and assistant executive director Ron Hainsey flew to Columbus to meet with Blue Jackets players on Thursday, September 14th. After a lengthy meeting described as “intense,” the situation was added to the agenda of a regularly scheduled NHL/NHLPA meeting on Friday. Some of Babcock’s former players in Toronto were contacted as part of the investigation.
Of course, it was “intense”, because no one likes to have their privacy invaded, especially when it’s done by someone of authority. The players obviously kept their true feelings private, as they should, no one likes to be put on the spot to publicly rebuke a story like this, especially if you don’t know your coach is going to stay in place. But whatever the players told the NHLPA seemed to have proven to them and Columbus management that Babcock didn’t change his approach to modernize or become respectful to his players as they had hoped he would. The red flags were there, now, Columbus waived the white flag, and they finally went with the coach they should have gone with at the start of this adventure, Pascal Vincent. Don’t be surprised if the Blue Jackets rally as a team around this drama and surprise the NHL with significantly improved play from last season.