Quickly after the Toronto Maple Leafs showed the door to Mike Babcock in November 2019, the famous coach was classified in the category of infrequentable.
Former players who knew him in Detroit, where he spent a decade, described him as a bully. Tactics deemed inappropriate with rookie players, including Mitch Marner in Toronto, have come to light.
For three and a half years, therefore, Babcock stayed away from the NHL. He briefly dabbled in college hockey, but not in the professional ranks.
The 60-year-old driver has now completed his purgatory. Now that his monster contract with the Leafs has expired, the Columbus Blue Jackets have, to much fanfare, announced his hiring as the organization’s new head coach.
Babcock did not explicitly dwell on past incidents, but he made it clear that he had moved on. If there is one aspect in which he says he has evolved, it is that of communication.
“My daughter often tells me: it’s not what you say, it’s the tone you use,” he said, in response to a question about what he was planning to do differently in this new chapter of his career.
“I’m a direct, honest guy; I work hard, I am enthusiastic, he continued. But the message sent and the one received are often not the same. It has happened that, even though I thought I had a good meeting with a young player, I learned later that he had told an assistant that I yelled at him. Communicating is [effectively] conveying the message you want and doing it in a respectful way. That’s what the three and a half years have taught me. »
This reflection on communication, he notably fueled it at the University of Vermont and that of Saskatchewan, two institutions which have summarily employed him during the last two seasons.
The coach says he spoke with experts from different disciplines. People who, he claims, have helped him “better”.
“Having 23 players in a team means having 23 coaching styles, 23 individual plans, 23 mental preparation plans… That’s how you’re successful. I wouldn’t have said that 10 years ago. I did not know. »
Twice, he described this forced break as a “gift from God”, which gave him time with his wife and their children. It could be ironic that the gift also came from the Maple Leafs, from which he received an annual salary of 6.25 million during this time. Regardless, he claims to have, during this hiatus, rediscovered the “pure joy” that hockey gives him. Which brings us to his new professional challenge.
Jarmo Kakalainen and John Davidson, respectively general manager and president of hockey operations of the Columbus Blue Jackets, barely concealed their excitement at the idea of announcing the hiring of Mike Babcock, thus formalizing the worst-kept secret in the NHL.
Davidson has, unsurprisingly, touted his impressive resume. This point is undeniable. Two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup title at the head of the Canadian team. A Stanley Cup, won in Detroit in 2008, a participation in the final with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003. His 700 wins in season give him the 12th rank in league history. He should join the top 10 next season, and he will rise further if his reign in Columbus lasts a few years.
Kakalainen, he assured to have done his homework and consulted a multitude of people before stopping his choice on Babcock. The feedback “has been nothing but positive,” he said. Dave King and Ken Hitchcock, two ex-head coaches of the Jackets, gave him their blessing. Just like Rick Nash, former glory of the club is today director of player development in Columbus. And the group of leaders in the current formation have been formal, according to the GM: the important thing for them is to win.
He believes that he went to find “the best coach available” to get there, but also “the best person”.
“Our organization has strong values, which we do not compromise on and which are non-negotiable,” Kakalainen said. That applies to me and everyone at this table. We look forward to working with Mike. »
Immediately after confirming Babcock’s signing, the Blue Jackets quickly revealed that they had signed their newest first-round pick Adam Fantilli. The one who, just last Wednesday, was drafted third overall, therefore ends his university career after a single season, during which he outrageously dominated the NCAA, to the point of being awarded the trophy Hobey-Baker awarding the best player in the country. We therefore deduce that Fantilli, the first player of the 2023 vintage to win a professional agreement, will make the leap directly into the NHL. As expected, his entry contract will be valid for three years.