Mike Babcock resigned as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday after just two months on the job, following word earlier this week of him asking players to show him photos on their phones.
The team announced Babcock’s shocking departure in the aftermath of an investigation by the NHL Players’ Association into his conduct. Associate coach Pascal Vincent was named Babcock’s replacement and signed a two-year contract through the 2024-25 season.
Ex-NHLer Paul Bissonnette said on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast he was told by an unidentified player that the veteran coach asked players during one-on-one meetings to see photos on their phones and would then stream them on his television.
The 60-year-old Babcock and Columbus captain Boone Jenner said in a joint statement released by the Blue Jackets that the report is “a gross misrepresentation of those meetings and extremely offensive.”
The NHLPA said on Thursday that its executive director and assistant executive director were in Columbus, Ohio, to investigate the reports. Marty Walsh and Ron Hainsey were meeting with some Blue Jackets players as part of the investigation.
The union updated the league Friday on its findings.
In a statement released Sunday, the Blue Jackets said Babcock’s resignation was a mutual decision between the team and 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 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.”
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said the move was necessary “to ensure our focus remains on the players and the team’s upcoming season.”
Babcock had spent nearly four years out of the league after being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019, with former players criticizing the coach and his old-school behaviour after his departure.
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 after being fired by Toronto.
Vincent, 51, joined the Blue Jackets as associate coach in 2021 after spending 10 years with the Winnipeg Jets organization, including five as head coach of the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose from 2016-21.
“This is a difficult day, but I am looking forward to this opportunity and appreciate the organization’s confidence in me to lead this team,” he said.
In a Sunday statement from the NHLPA, executive director Walsh welcomed the Columbus decision.
“Our players deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace. 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,” wrote Walsh.
— With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2023.
The Canadian Press