The Mike Babcock experiment is over: he has resigned as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 5th line saw Babcock come and go before the season even started. For a franchise that put an emphasis on finding the right head coach to get the franchise back into the postseason, it sure seems like the gamble was a total flub for the CBJ.
After the last game of the 2022-2023 regular season, CBJ management decided to part ways with then-head coach Brad Larsen. As an outsider, this came as no surprise. The team had struggled to win and find consistency in the two seasons that Larsen was the head man. The development and growth of some of the younger players appeared to be slow and the team ultimately regressed. To top it off, management cited the poor structure and culture within the locker room. The CBJ needed change and they made it.
Jarmo Kekalainan and John Davidson really needed to get the right head coach to replace Larson. Their jobs were on the line with this hire, as the team has seen little success (only 1 playoff series win) in the 11 seasons with Jarmo and company at the helm. The search was thorough and took quite a while. As a fanbase, that’s what we wanted. We wanted the organization to search high and low; do their due diligence; and make the best selection. There were numerous names that were floated around that the team had interviewed. At the conclusion of the process, management ultimately decided to go with Mike Babcock. As soon as it was announced that Mike Babcock was the new head coach, many around the hockey world had to stop and ponder the decision.
There’s no denying the amount of winning that has occurred throughout Babcock’s career (overall record of 700-418-183). However, that success came with a lot of baggage. Stories of how he abused players or used unorthodox/controversial tactics to get through to players have followed him everywhere he has been. His poor handling of rookies in Toronto is why he was fired from the head man of the Maple Leafs. Despite the baggage, the CBJ decided to go with Babcock. Management stated over and over about how they had done a thorough investigation into Babcock and were convinced that he had changed.
On the Spittin Chiclets podcast this past week, former NHL player Paul Bissonnette made a claim that Babcock was going through players phones to view their photos. Bissonnette claimed that this was one of Babcock’s methods of getting to know players and to determine the type of person that they are. All the information provided to Bissonnette was coming via text message from an unnamed Blue Jackets player. An investigation was launched by the NHL Players Association. While not known what all was found, we do know that some players had no issue with it and other players felt very uncomfortable. Obviously, there may be more that has yet to be released, but this was the information given to the media.
Despite some public statements of support for Babcock from management, Babcock ultimately decided to resign as head coach because he thought he would be a distraction to the team. Babcock’s tenure as the CBJ head coach lasted all of 78 days. He never coached a single game for the team. With training camp set to get underway this week, the CBJ promoted associate coach Pascal Vincent to the head coach role. Vincent was one of the many candidates to replace Larsen during the coaching search. At the time, CBJ management decided to bring in an outside voice. At the end of the day, they ended up with someone who has been here for the past 2 years.
Vincent is an up-and-coming coach who was considered for multiple head coaching vacancies around the league. However, his hire likely won’t excite the 5th line. For some fans, his hire is just an extension of the Larsen tenure since Vincent was on Larsen’s coaching staff. For all the problems that the team faced under Larsen, this is not something that the CBJ faithful want to see. Many fans were hoping for a big name coach from the outside (Gerard Gallant anyone?). Instead, it seems like the team is just settling for the only person whom they can get on short notice. It is not a good feeling for the fans and is not a good look for the CBJ management.
Bringing in Mike Babcock as the head coach was a very high risk, high reward gamble. He could have changed his habits and led the team back to the postseason this year. Instead, his old habits persisted, he had to resign, and the team had to settle for an internal head coach. With pressure on management to find the next head coach, they really dropped the ball. The coaching search took so long and appeared to be thorough on the surface. There were plenty of good candidates available to choose from. But the wrong choice was made from the get-go and then management basically had to settle for a guy already within the organization because training camp is about to get underway.
Maybe Pascal Vincent will do an amazing job and lead the team back to the postseason. Time will tell. But if the team continues to struggle and looks like the teams that played for Larsen, then one can argue that the coaching search was an utter failure.