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Blue Jackets to Hire Mike Babcock: Why it Works, and Why it Doesn’t

Oct 21, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock during the post game press conference against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena. Columbus defeated Toronto in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 21, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock during the post game press conference against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena. Columbus defeated Toronto in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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If you’ve followed social media at all in the last two days, you know the news by now. The Blue Jackets will soon announce Mike Babcock as the 9th full-time head coach in team history, a bit of news that shook up the entire hockey world.

This marks a swift change in direction for the franchise, changes that can be looked at from a variety of angles. Babcock is a polarizing figure with a terrific success record at nearly every level he’s coached – which signals that this team is ready to start winning soon, rather than later. It also marks the end of the “young/player’s coach” trial run, that lasted only two seasons under Brad Larsen.

Babcock is an imposing presence who will make an immediate impact to the locker room, which can be good or bad. He’s one of the biggest names in hockey’s coaching world – and in fact, when next season starts, he’ll kick off the year with the 12th most wins behind a bench in NHL history, with 700 under his belt. Just four behind our old flame, John Tortorella. Still, we have one important question to answer: will it work?

Why hiring Mike Babcock might just work…

One look at the franchise history of the Blue Jackets, might just answer this question for us in the simplest way. The Jackets have made the postseason six times in their existence: once in 2009 under Ken Hitchcock, Once in 2014 under Todd Richards; and then four straight times under Tortorella, from 2017-2020.

Aug 11, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella gesturea as he speaks to his players in game one of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Tampa Bay LIghtning at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella gesturea as he speaks to his players in game one of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Tampa Bay LIghtning at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

When making the comparison between Babcock, Hitchcock, and Tortorella, there are some similarities in personality. All of them are extremely demanding, firm handed coaches, who will dole out ice time according to their own discretion. All three have had major success elsewhere, before coming to Columbus. And, maybe most importantly, all three came to Columbus looking for a chance to re-establish themselves in the NHL.

Where Babcock differs from Hitchcock and Tortorella however, is in his stylistic approach to the game. It’s not entirely fair to put him into the same category as those two, who demand tight-checking in the defensive zone; only to then rely on talent to push the offense the other way.

Mar 11, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock reacts from the bench during their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock reacts from the bench during their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Mike Babcock’s teams typically play a free-flowing style, comparable more to European teams than what you might expect from an old school Western Canadian coach. His teams rely on puck possession and skilled transitions, followed up by fast forechecking and quick striking offense. When you lay it out like that, I would argue that he’s exactly what this team needs: someone to put their talented scorers into positions to score.