Showing posts with label Mike Babcock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Babcock. Show all posts

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Return of Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock is set to be hired as the new head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 1, 2023. His four years in well-paid exile marks one of the most unique episodes in recent NHL history.

When the Leafs under President Brendan Shanahan and GM Lou Lamoriello hired Babcock in May, 2015, they hailed their new coach as one of the greatest ever in the NHL. And they certainly paid him like they meant it. He’s still the league’s highest paid coach ever at an AAV of $8 million per season. His contract runs out on June 30, 2023, the day before the Blue Jackets will likely announce his hiring as their new bench boss.

When the Leafs handed Kyle Dubas the GM’s reins in 2018, it was only a matter of time before Babcock was fired. In November 2019, with the Leafs struggling in the first half of the season, the axe came down. And then a mass pile-on began, the likes of which has never been seen in the NHL. As I discussed in an earlier post, Mitch Marner and his ‘entourage’ wanted to damage Babcock as much as possible as he was on his way out the door. Marner had to have sought permission from Dubas before going public, and no doubt the license was granted.

Babcock did not deny the alleged wrong-doing, though he quibbled with the details. He read the room, and the zeitgeist, very well. Societal sentiments at the time regarding all sorts of bad behaviour and wronged individuals were at a fever pitch. If you ransacked the pasts of numerous NHL coaches, you would likely find similar conduct or worse. But everything would have to line up perfectly as it did with Babcock for a similar spectacle to ever happen again.

The Toronto hockey media herd is like no other: larger, more desperate for access, and more willing to exchange positive coverage for leaks and other special treatment. The Leafs really need to do nothing to keep the herd in check. The herd monitors itself, engages in self-censorship and gleefully attacks the rare herd member who doesn't follow the unwritten rules. When the herd was granted the license to go after Babcock for his alleged sins, they dutifully swarmed into action. They did Marner and Dubas’s bidding and all but tarred and feathered Babcock on his way out of town.

So the moment in time was perfect, the media was on board, and a handful of grudge-holders from Babcock’s past stepped up to play their parts. I have no doubt former players coached by Babcock feel their gripes are legitimate. But Babcock has no chance of ever receiving a fair hearing regarding their claims. At least one of the aggrieved individuals bemoans the fact that he simply has no choice but to embrace the recognition on offer every time Babcock is in the headlines. The point is, all these factors helped create a situation ripe for the zero-nuance, mob mentality social-media spectacle that played out after Babcock was fired by the Leafs.

Argue about the horror of ‘the list’ all you want. But it’s hard to deny that Babcock could have played his post-Toronto hand any better than he did. He did some analysis on TV, volunteered with the University of Saskatchewan’s men’s hockey program, and mostly enjoyed life. And for the most part he kept his mouth shut. The $20 million-dollar plus salary the Leafs paid him for not coaching for the last 4 years of his contract likely helped. He’ll be paid every last penny of the contract, which finishes on June 30 of this year.

The Dubas media sycophants have mostly stuck to their guns about Babcock. Maybe some nuance has been introduced with the passage of time and because the Leafs’ core four (John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander) have achieved nothing in the post-season since Babcock’s departure. Gutless, overpaid and coddled into emotionless, dead-eyed, post-elimination delusion, the core four’s annual disappearing act is the main reason for the Leafs’ playoff failures since Babcock was fired. But did you see the effort by Marner and Nylander in the Leafs’ final game of the 2022-23 season as they tried to achieve those personal milestones they always claim are so meaningless? Incredible!

Dubas’s cack-handed public machinations in trying to squeeze more money and power out of MLSE may have caused some people to reconsider the entire Babcock saga. Perhaps Dubas’s bizarre final media availability as the Leafs’ GM forced Shanahan to rethink how the Babcock firing was handled and confirmed some suspicions he had about Dubas. Who knows? Maybe it was even front of mind when he gave Dubas the Luca Brasi treatment.

Regardless, it’s not hard to believe Babcock was right all along in his handling of the Leafs’ young stars. But one thing is for certain, the Blue Jackets will be a bigger draw in the coming NHL season, especially when they play Toronto or Pittsburgh. Many fans and hacks will want to cast Babcock as a villain. He’ll joust with reporters, answer questions about Marner and Dubas, and pontificate on whether he’s changed as a coach. And I have no doubt he’ll enjoy every minute of it.