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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The biggest concern we all have about this hiring is his treatment of players; most recently, Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Mitch Marner. Is he the right fit from a personnel approach?

Again, we can look back at franchise history for some comparisons here. How many of the players who opted out of Columbus over the last handful of years, left because of John Tortorella? While nobody outright came out and said that’s why they left, one has to wonder if his heavy-handed approach drove some of them away.

Mar 12, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (middle) celebrates with teammates center Pierre-Luc Dubois (left) and left wing Artemi Panarin (9), after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (middle) celebrates with teammates center Pierre-Luc Dubois (left) and left wing Artemi Panarin (9), after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s a fair question, and a fair concern when we’re bringing in Babcock. For as successful as he’s been and all of the good that he’s done, this is a coach whose voice wears thin on players over time. The Jackets, a young, upstart team with a collection of talent like we’ve never seen before, might benefit from this presence right away. But in two or three years, are we going to see another mass exodus?

There are two things we can hope for here. One: that Mike Babcock has learned from his past discretions, and is coming to Columbus with the right mindset. This is probably his last chance to coach in the NHL, especially if it doesn’t work out, so he knows he has to adapt.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – JUNE 22: Jarmo Kekäläinen of the Columbus Blue Jackets works the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – JUNE 22: Jarmo Kekäläinen of the Columbus Blue Jackets works the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The second thing we can hope for: that Jarmo Kekalainen understands the same thing. This is his last head coaching hire if it doesn’t work out, so he needs to have a tight grip on Babcock and do his best to ensure that none of his superstars or high draft picks are chased out of town by a coach that likes to squeeze the most out of his roster.

This is a bold move by the Jackets, one that will either pay off in a huge way – or flame out, and result in everyone involved looking for work elsewhere. For this reason, we should be excited. I don’t mean that we should be excited to see this team rebuilding again in two or three years; I mean that we should be excited and hopeful that it works out. These are smart hockey minds, who have a lot to lose, laying it all on the line for us in hopes of winning hockey’s ultimate prize.

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As fans, all we can do is buckle up and see what happens. I saw a lot of the same concerns on social media when Tortorella was hired, and all he did was take a pieced together team to the playoffs four years running. Imagine what this group, with a far more talented core, might be able to do under a coach who drags them into the battle in much the same way – but is more of an X’s and O’s type of coach.

Like it or not, these are the cards we’re being dealt. We can either rally around him like we did with Torts, or we can find another team for the next little while. Personally, I’m interested to see where this thing goes, and I have a feeling that if the team starts winning games, a lot of the critics will be silent.

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