Mike Babcock controversies: Blue Jackets coach denies claims he forced players to reveal photos on phone

Mike Babcock hasn’t been the Blue Jackets head coach for three months, yet he already is stirring up controversy. 

On the latest episode of Barstool Sports’ “Spittin’ Chiclets”, former NHL player and current TNT analyst Paul Bissonnette discussed a text he received from an unidentified player that claimed Babcock is requiring Blue Jackets players to show him photos in their phones’ libraries. 

Bissonnette said the player specifically told him that an incident like this occurred with Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner, where Babcock asked to see the captain’s photos so he could “know the type of person” Jenner is. 

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Babcock and Jenner released statements shortly after the clip was posted, denying the claims from Bissonnette. Babcock said that the accusations are “irresponsible and completely inaccurate.”

“While meeting with our players and staff I asked them to share, off their phones, family pictures as part of the process of getting to know them better,” Babcock’s statement read. “There was absolutely nothing more to it than that. The way this was portrayed on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast was a gross misrepresentation of those meetings and extremely offensive.

“These meetings have been very important and beneficial, not only for me but for our players and staff as well, and to have them depicted like this is irresponsible and completely inaccurate.”

Jenner reiterated Babcock’s statement, stating that the situation was getting “blown out of proportion.”

“While meeting with Babs he asked me about my family and where I’m from, my upcoming wedding and hockey-related stuff,” Jenner’s statement said “He then asked if I had pictures of my family and I was happy to share some with him. He showed me pictures of his family.

“I thought it was a great first meeting and good way for us to start to build a relationship. To have this blown out of proportion is truly disappointing.”

NHLPA president Marty Walsh met with Columbus brass members on Thursday to discuss the incident. The NHL and NHLPA are meeting on Friday to discuss the Babcock situation. 

Bissonnette defended his claims, responding online with a text message he received form an anonymous player that sided with the story he told on his show.

His podcast partner, former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney, as well as former NHLer Mike Commodore, also took to social media to defend the accusations against Babcock. 

Babcock was hired by the Blue Jackets in July to replace the fired Brad Larsen. The 60-year-old has coached in over 1,300 games in the NHL, spending time in Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto. He was fired by the Maple Leafs during the 2019-20 season, and had not been behind an NHL bench since. 

Mike Babcock controversies

For those aware of the history surrounding Babcock, it’s understandable why people are quick to attack the newest Columbus coach and believe these claims. 

Former Red Wings winger Johan Franzen had previously opened up about his experiences with Babcock in Detroit. The Swedish player spent 10 seasons with the Red Wings under Babcock, and revealed in a 2019 interview with Swedish outlet Expressen that Babcock would verbally abuse him. 

“He’s a terrible person, the worst I ever met,” Franzen said. “He’s a bully who was attacking people. It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.”

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Franzen also confirmed an earlier story told on a Spittin Chiclets’ episode by former NHL defenseman Chris Chelios, who played with Franzen for four years with the Red Wings. 

“Some of the things (Babcock) said  (Franzen) on the bench, I don’t know what he said to him behind closed doors one-on-one, but he blatantly verbally assaulted him during the game on the bench,” Chelios said. “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 nervous breakdown, not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville.

“It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”

In an interview with Sportsnet, Babcock denied the idea that he bullied Franzen or anyone else on the team, calling it “the craziest thing he’s ever heard of.”

Babcock left the Red Wings in 2015 after the two sides could not come to an agreement on a contract extension, and he was hired by the Maple Leafs.

But controversy followed him to Toronto, as in 2019, The Toronto Sun reported that Babcock had forced Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner to rank his teammates by work ethic during Marner’s rookie season in 2016-17, and then proceeded to reveal Marner’s answers to the entire club. 

“Babcock was alleged to have asked one of the Leafs’ rookies to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic,” The Toronto Sun reported. “The rookie did so, not wanting to upset his coach, but was taken aback when Babcock told the players who had been listed at the bottom.”

Further reporting by The Athletic’s Ian Tulloch revealed the effect that it had on Marner and the rest of the Leafs locker room. 

“According to multiple sources, Marner was in tears after the details of his list were shared, while his teammates were furious — specifically with Babcock,” Tulloch said. “They couldn’t believe their head coach would put a 19-year-old in that situation, especially considering how well-liked Marner was in the dressing room.”

While Babcock disputed the details of the incident, he did admit it was a “mistake” to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun in a 2021 interview. 

“There’s no question that it was all on me. Not on Mitch,” Babcock said. “It was all on me. I made a mistake.”

In addition to these incidents, Babcock has received criticism in the past when he has benched veteran players for seemingly unknown reasons.

He made Red Wings center Mike Modano a healthy scratch in the final game of the 2010-11 season, Modano’s final season in the NHL, locking the eight-time All-Star into 1,499 career games played. He scratched former Leafs winger Jason Spezza in the 2019-20 season opener against the Senators — Spezza’s former club — despite the veteran recently signing with his hometown team.

Babcock also tried to healthy scratch Chelios during the 2009 Winter Classic, but ultimately dressed the veteran defenseman. However, Chelios was limited to under two minutes of playing time. 

“He tried to healthy scratch me in the outdoor game in Wrigley Field against Chicago because he knew it was my hometown — just things that were so unnecessary, to show he’s the boss, to show his general manager he’s the boss,” Chelios said of the incident. “That’s he’s on a power thing, his ego — that’s a big part of his personality.”

Source : ESPN.com

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