- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
Mike Babcock is expected to become the next head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL source confirmed to ESPN on Saturday.
TSN first reported the news.
Babcock, 60, last coached the Toronto Maple Leafs for five seasons before he was fired in November 2019. He had an eight-year contract with the Leafs that runs through June 30, after which he’s expected to join Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are still working on the details of their next coach’s deal and wouldn’t confirm that coach was Babcock. Their previous coach, Brad Larsen, was fired in April after two seasons.
Columbus missed the playoffs for the third straight season, finishing last in the Eastern Conference with a .360 points percentage — the second-worst finish in franchise history. That was after the Blue Jackets made the biggest free agent splash of the offseason, bringing in star winger Johnny Gaudreau on a seven-year contract to join players such as Patrik Laine and defenseman Zach Werenski, who was limited to 13 games in 2022-23 due to injury.
Babcock has coached 1,301 games in the NHL with the Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He led the 2008 Red Wings to the Stanley Cup. His teams have won three conference championships (Ducks in 2003, Red Wings in 2008 and 2009). His 700 wins is the 13th most all time, and his .608 points percentage is the fourth best among NHL coaches with at least 1,000 games.
He also coached Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. Rick Nash, director of player development for the Blue Jackets, was a member of both teams.
But Babcock’s reputation was tarnished after his time in Toronto, following multiple accusations of mental abuse of players. Former Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, in the Swedish media outlet Expressen, accused Babcock of “verbal attacks” that, at one point, caused Franzen to break down on the bench and dread coming to the arena.
When Toronto forward Mitch Marner was a rookie, Babcock had him make a list of his teammates ranked by how much effort they gave on the ice. Babcock then shared the list with the players who were at the bottom of that ranking, much to the embarrassment of Marner. The incident was reported to then-general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Chris Chelios, now an ESPN commentator, told the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast in 2019 that the accusations were “coming out to haunt Babcock for not so much his coaching as the way he treated people.” Chelios cited when Babcock scratched Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano to prevent him from hitting 1,500 career games and when he made veteran Jason Spezza a healthy scratch for the Leafs’ 2019 season opener against the Ottawa Senators, Spezza’s former team.
After Babcock was fired, Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said his coaching tactics were not “appropriate or acceptable,” given how times had changed in the NHL.
“We have to evolve,” Shanahan said in 2019. “We all came from a certain generation where things occurred to us as players that we just sort of accepted. We all have to do a better job of just creating that kind of work environment on the ice and off the ice.”
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