With every passing day, more dirt on hockey’s key figures is being brought into the public light.
On a recent episode of the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, NHL legend Chris Chelios had some exposing words for his former head coach Mike Babcock.
While with the Detroit Red Wings organization, Babcock verbally assaulted forward Johan Franzen on the bench during a game, according to Chelios.
“[Franzen] was hurt at the time of the playoffs, we lost to Nashville...and some of the things he said to him on the bench,” Chelios said. “I don’t know what he said to him behind closed doors — but he was blatantly verbally assaulting him during the game.”
The Red Wings post-season series against the Predators was in 2012, Babcock’s seventh year as the head coach of the team.
The Hall of Fame defenceman continued to recount Franzen’s experience with the now-unemployed coach behind the bench.
“It got to the point for Johan — no one really knew he was suffering with the concussion and depression — he just broke down and had a nervous breakdown. Not only on the bench, but after the game, into the rooms in Nashville. That was probably the worst thing that I’ve ever seen.”
When asked if the Red Wings leadership group stood up for their teammate being harassed on the bench, Chelios expanded on the dynamic throughout the Detroit organization.
“Not really, you know guys talked amongst each other,” Chelios said. “But when something did happen and there was some second guessing, and it got to [GM] Ken Holland, [he] came down to the room and had this speech, and supported Mike Babcock. It was a great speech, but it was to tell everybody in the room, ‘you don’t like it, you could be traded, so come up and see me to be traded.’ So that was the way that ended.”
The threat of being traded was consistently used, according to Chelios, even if he was able to do what he assumed the coach wanted.
“We played a few exhibition games and I happen to score three games in a row. Then we play the opener against Edmonton, I get the game-winner against [the Oilers], and he calls me into his office after going plus-three, and he says ‘what the f--- do you think you’e doing?’ I go ‘what are you talking about?’ And then he goes ‘you’re not here to score goals, you’re here to play defence and babysit Brett Lebda.’
“I say, ‘yeah, but I’ve been plus all training camp.’ Then he interrupted me right away and says ‘if you don’t like it, you can go see Kenny Holland, I’m sure he’ll trade you.’”
With that added pressure, Chelios told himself that he wanted to stick it out and attempt to resist any of Babcock’s harassment.
”So that’s when I became the mentor,” Chelios said. “I didn’t want to leave the team, I loved playing in Detroit, I figured I would last there as long as I did. And I survived [Babcock] for seven years, by just shutting my mouth and doing what I’m told.”
Babcock came under fire last month due to reports of the coach asking Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner for a ranking of the hardest-working players on the team during his rookie year. Babcock reportedly then shared the results with the team — specifically Nazem Kadri, who was at the bottom of the list — leading to some controversy.
Chelios believes petty displays of power are one of Babcock’s signature moves.
“What he did to [Mike] Modano was incredibly disrespectful, what he did recently to [Jason] Spezza in Toronto. Those are the things that are so unnecessary,” Chelios said.
Modano joined Babcock’s Red Wings at the age of 40 in a last ditch effort to earn himself a second ring. But as he approached the remarkable milestone of 1,500 games played in the NHL, the coach healthy-scratched him for a late-season game against the Minnesota Wild, leaving him with 1,499 for his career.
In the same vein of trying to establish some control, Babcock scratched veteran Jason Spezza for the Maple Leafs’ season opener against his former team, the Ottawa Senators.
Spezza was drafted second overall by the Sens and played 11 seasons there, before being traded to the Dallas Stars. Playing for his hometown club against the team with which he established his career would be considered special, but Babcock decided to take a small jab at the forward and he was disappointed to not play in that personal game.
Chelios had to deal with one of the head coach’s power trips as well.
”He tried to healthy-scratch me for the outdoor game in Wrigley Field against Chicago because it was my hometown,” he said. “Just to show that he’s the boss and to show the general manager that he’s the boss, is such a power thing. His ego is a big part of his personality.”
It appears that Babcock does not care for his player’s personal connections to certain games, even if it involves well-established NHL veterans such as Modano, Spezza and Chelios.
These damning examples of abuse from the former Maple Leafs and Red Wings head coach will hopefully shine a light on more stories throughout the sport.
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