Blue Jackets coach resigns amid investigation
Mike Babcock, the coach with a Stanley Cup championship and two Olympic gold medals on his resume, has lost his last two jobs in the NHL.
Last time, it was for losing too many games. This time, it was for his interactions with players that followed 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 from players in a bonding effort drew criticism as too invasive.
The team announced Babcock’s abrupt departure in the aftermath of an investigation by the NHL Players’ Association into his conduct. Pascal Vincent was named Babcock’s replacement and signed a two-year contract through the 2024-25 season.
“Our players deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace,” NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said. “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 was asking players to show him photos and projecting them for others to see in an invasion of privacy. Babcock and captain Boone Jenner denied the report, saying it was just a way of the new coach getting to know players.
Still, the players union launched a review and updated the league Friday on its findings.
“This was a difficult decision on everyone’s part, but one we felt necessary to ensure our focus remains on the players and the team’s upcoming season,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “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.”
Babcock’s conduct was under the microscope given his history of polarizing, old-school coaching techniques, many of which came to light after he was fired by Toronto in 2019. This was his first NHL job since.
“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. “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.”
Babcock, the 2008 Stanley Cup-winning coach with Detroit, said upon taking the Columbus job in July that he evolved as a coach and learned how better to deal with players following his firing by Toronto.
A report surfaced after the Maple Leafs fired Babcock that he had asked a player to share his ranking of teammates from hardest- to least-hardest working and then shared that with the rest of the group. Other former players expressed their dissatisfaction with Babcock, who at one point was considered the best coach in hockey.
Instead, Babcock’s time in the NHL might be over, and with it comes questions about Kekalainen’s future in Columbus.
Babcock was the third coach Kekalainen has hired since taking over in February 2013. The Blue Jackets have missed the playoffs each of the past 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 the previous two seasons after four years as coach of the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose.
Kekalainen called Vincent an outstanding coach who “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,” Kekalainen said.
Vincent said it was a difficult day but that he was looking forward to the opportunity.
“We have a great group of guys that have been working very hard to prepare for the season,” he said. “My focus will be to work with our staff to help them get better every day and be ready for what we believe will be an exciting season.”