Mike Babcock had one order of business to take care of before starting his new role as a rotating panel analyst for NHL broadcasting partner NBC on Sunday night.
That was, to explain himself.
So, the former Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings head coach, who has had the most success in his career at the controls for Hockey Canada, called up one of the most connected reporters in the game — The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun — to share his side of the two stories that have besmirched his name since exiting stage left.
Controversy No. 1 — The Mitch Marner saga
Just days after Babcock was canned by the Leafs almost 14 months ago, the Toronto Sun reported on an issue within the organization during the 2016-17 season that stemmed from the former coach asking a rookie — who was later revealed to be Mitch Marner — to rank his teammates based on work habits. According to the reports, and then later confirmed by Marner himself, Babcock shared what was intended to be confidential information — which implicated former centre Tyler Bozak — with the entire team.
While Babcock does take responsibility for what happened, he takes issue with a few details in the story, explaining that he asked Marner to rank himself on a scale provided, not to implicate the players themselves.
And he says with certainty that the information was not posted for the entire team to see.
Where Babcock went wrong, he says, was using the information from the private conversation with Marner in a subsequent meeting with Bozak. He says he recognized the mistake immediately, and approached Marner to apologize right after the discussion with Bozak.
Babcock told LeBrun that he regrets not addressing it with the entire room — something that probably would have prevented the situation from taking on the life that it did — but that he takes full responsibility for the issue.
“There’s no question that it was all on me. Not on Mitch. It was all on me. I made a mistake. My fault.’’
Okay, so there seems to be some level of contrition there. And it’s also understandable how the story evolved into something more than it might have actually been, because it was addressed publicly in only a cursory manner.
Yeah, we’re missing some critical details with everyone else involved mum on the subject.
But I think we can move on.
Controversy No. 2: “The worst (person) I have ever met”
So here’s where things fall flat for Babcock.
In the fallout to the Marner story, former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen blasted Babcock on a Swedish outlet, calling his former coach a “terrible person” and a “bully.” He told Expressen via the Detroit Free Press: “It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.”
Franzen’s accusations were made in response to comments Chris Chelios made on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, which detailed verbal abuse directed at Franzen.
“It got to the point where poor Johan, no one really knowing he was suffering with the concussion thing and the depression thing, he just broke down and had a nervous breakdown, not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville,” Chelios said.
“It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
In his conversation with LeBrun, Babcock says the accusation “stings,” not just because it came from a player that he coached, but because of his involvement and participation in mental health awareness and other initiatives.
“Can you imagine having someone say that about you when you have been involved in mental health as much as I have? Now, I’ve reached out to (Franzen). That’s not going to make anything go away,” Babcock said.
“It doesn’t matter what I perceive. When you’re talking about this kind of thing, if the person — whether it’s a co-worker, your spouse, your student — if they think that’s the environment, that’s what they’re feeling. Now, I sure wish I would have known about that then. And I could have done something about that. Besides apologize, there’s not much I can do about that now.”
He then doubled down on the pain he was feeling: “Nothing can hurt you more than something like this.”
It should go without saying that Babcock is hardly a victim in a scenario in which someone he had authority over was driven to the point of a severe mental breakdown because of his actions alone.
It’s something Babcock appears uninterested in taking responsibility for.
“I love players. Do I push them hard? Absolutely. But in saying that, do you want to cross the line with them?
“At no time ever.’’
And that’s that. I guess we’ll see you on the panel, Mike.
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