Why did Mike Babcock resign? Blue Jackets part ways with new head coach after NHLPA investigation

The Mike Babcock era in Columbus is over before it even began. 

The Blue Jackets announced on Sunday that the team is parting ways their newest head coach after a recent investigation by the NHLPA into Babcock.

Pascal Vincent, who was the associate coach on the staff, has been named the new head coach. 

“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 the team’s statement. “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 lasted less than three months  after was hired by the Blue Jackets in July to replace the fired Brad Larsen. It was the fourth NHL head coaching gig for Babcock, as the 60-year-old previously spent time as the top bench boss in Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto. He ends his time with the Blue Jackets without coaching a single game. 

“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,” Blue Jackets 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.”

The now former Blue Jackets head coach is no stranger to controversy. Babcock has a history of strange tactics that have not sat well with certain players. His most notable incidents involve repeated verbal abuse directed towards former Red Wings forward Johan Franzen and forcing Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner to openly rank his teammates’ work ethic his rookie season. 

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Why did Mike Babcock resign?

Babcock had come under fire in the last week after reports came out that he was asking players to go through pictures on their phones. 

On an episode of Barstool Sports’ “Spittin’ Chiclets”, former NHL player and current TNT analyst Paul Bissonnette discussed a text he received from an unidentified player which claimed that Babcock was requiring Blue Jackets players to show him photos in their phones’ libraries. 

According to Bissonnette, the player specifically mentioned an incident with Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner, where Babcock reportedly asked to see the captain’s photos so he could “know the type of person” Jenner is. 

Mike Babcock has allegedly been asking various Blue Jackets to see their phones then AirPlaying their photos on his office TV.

????: https://t.co/sFJxtm8Pp2 pic.twitter.com/zsiql2uJ5x

— Spittin’ Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) September 12, 2023

Babcock and Jenner released statements shortly after the clip was posted, denying the claims from Bissonnette. Babcock said that the accusations were “irresponsible and completely inaccurate” and stated that the meetings were “very important and beneficial” to both him and the players. 

“While meeting with our players and staff I asked them to share, off their phones, family pictures as part of the process of getting to know them better,” Babcock’s statement read. “There was absolutely nothing more to it than that. The way this was portrayed on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast was a gross misrepresentation of those meetings and extremely offensive.”

The NHLPA announced it was investigating the alleged incidents, and NHLPA president Marty Walsh flew out to Columbus to meet with members of the Blue Jackets organization a few days after Bissonnett’s claims. On Friday, the NHL met with the NHLPA as well to go over the findings from the investigation. 

Jenner wasn’t the only player who didn’t mind the meeting with Babcock. Blue Jackets star Johnny Gaudreau said on Sportsnet’s “32 Thoughts” podcast that he felt the story got “kinda blown out of proportion.”

However, according to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, the NHLPA’s investigation revealed that some players, especially the younger ones, did not feel comfortable with Babcock. One source told Kaplan that the meetings with the coach were “just awkward interactions,” and a player agent flat out said that Babcock’s “communication style wasn’t going to work for the younger generation.” 

In addition, Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported a specific incident that was particularly troubling and one of the “most serious concerns” from the investigation. 

“According to multiple sources, one of the most serious concerns was a meeting that occurred away from team facilities that included ‘several minutes’ of looking through a phone. That was beyond the scope of what was initially understood to have occurred.”

Considering Babcock’s previous history, the question now is why he was hired in the first place by the Blue Jackets. His questionable tactics from the past were part of the reason why he was away from an NHL bench for nearly three and a half years. 

There were concerns when Columbus first announced Babcock would be joining the organization, and those now seem to be justified based on the decision to part ways with the coach.

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