Everyone deserves a second chance.
You may have heard that expression before, when someone makes some egregious mistakes on their first go-around before being given another opportunity to (re)prove their talents. The Columbus Blue Jackets, an under-the-radar team that is in a small media market, decided to bring in the embattled Mike Babcock as its new bench boss on July 1, succeeding Brad Larsen, who was canned after two dismal seasons in which the club went 62-86-16 under his watch.
The Blue Jackets, a young team with high potential supplemented by veterans with high-end talent including wingers Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, defenseman Zack Werenski and goaltender Elvis Merzlinkins, knew that in order to ascend to the next level, needed a coach that could find more ways to win hockey games. Enter Mike Babcock, a man that sure knows how to get the job done. He won in Anaheim, leading the team within one win of a Stanley Cup in his first year on the job. He won in Detroit, leading the Red Wings to an ‘08 Cup victory while nearly doing it again a year later. He helped push a Maple Leafs team undergoing a massive rebuild ahead of schedule by making them a perennial playoff contender.
Sounds like a top-tier coach right?
Turns out, behind the scenes, he is nothing more than “a bully,” as described by Johan Franzen, who played for Babcock in Detroit. Babcock fell from grace in 2019 after numerous stories came to light about the controversial tactics he has used on his players. Even though many of these actions were now coming to the view of the public eye, many of his former players have long loathed him. Former defensemen Mike Commodore is an example of this, who has held a grudge against Babcock for allegedly mistreating him going back to his stints in both Anaheim and Detroit. Current Leafs forward Mitch Marner was asked to rank himself among the hardest-working players on the team his rookie year by Babcock, only to share the list with the rest of the team, humiliating the youngster in the process. Babcock apparently was so verbally abusive to Franzen that he suffered from depression and anxiety for years after his encounters.
It was widely assumed that his coaching career was all but over. But just under four years later, when his contract with Toronto expired, Columbus gave him a second chance. This move was widely panned by the hockey world, given his past history, but management defended the decision, believing that the veteran coach gave them the impression that he had changed as a person and would put in a sincere effort to better relate to his players.
Turns out that management got hoodwinked in brutal fashion, as former NHL player Paul Bissonette, who co-hosts the popular “Spittin’ Chiclets” hockey podcast, revealed that he got texts from anonymous Blue Jackets players that he had asked to view their camera roll as a way of “getting to know them better.” He then in turn displayed these photos on a projected screen in his office. Some veterans, including Gaudreau and team captain Bonne Jenner, defended the move, explaining that they had no issue with him doing that and it was simply an exercise to see pictures of family, friends and other photos that defined each player. Younger players, on the other hand, were much more uneasy with this, prompting an investigation by the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA).
After the fallout, Babcock tendered his resignation as Blue Jackets head coach, stepping away after never coaching a game. The Jackets, deservedly so, faced a rampage of criticism and mockery for their lack of due diligence of allowing Babcock to the bench of a young, but high potential, team. President John Davidson and General Manager Jarmo Kekalianen have done an admirable job in their respective roles, elevating a once perineal laughing stock that failed to ever win a playoff game to a competitive and respectable club each preceding year after their hires in 2013. But after this fallout, they deserve to at least be questioned by their decision-making with this move.
After all of this baggage, I hope and pray that Mike Babcock would never coach an NHL game again. I don’t wish ill will on anybody, but being verbally and psychologically abusive to players, let alone in the workplace, is wrong and unacceptable. Sure, a coach’s job is to hold a player accountable and to correct them when they make mistakes, but at the end of the day, being a bully who humiliates and brings people down can place a big asterisk on you.
I strongly believe in second chances. I don’t believe someone should be “canceled” over some egregious mistake that they made. I believe that it should be a teaching moment for the person to understand what they did wrong and to only grow from that point forward. We are all human in the end. We are all going to make mistakes and I think as an individual, taking ownership and holding yourself accountable for them is something that I think is very important, as well as how you will respond after making them.
Now, do I think you should put trust in someone who turns out to not only fail to take accountability, but also revert back to its previous ways? Absolutely not. Mike Babcock learned absolutely nothing in his four years away from the NHL. When I first heard everything that came out in 2019, I was undoubtedly disturbed, but if he received one more opportunity to coach and show the world that he really did change, then I wouldn’t completely dismiss it. But after what transpired this past week, he has no business being around an NHL team again. Just like every manipulator out there, they have a plan, and Mike Babcock sure did have one. His contract with Toronto expired this past June, earning a paycheck from the Maple Leafs until that time. He took full advantage of the opportunity handed to him by Columbus, and he did not change in any way. I think having someone that is a complete sociopath who relishes in the idea of playing mind games is very detrimental for anyone. I think this should be a wake up call for any coach out there, treat all of your players with respect or you are done.