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Does Babcock Stand a Chance As Coach of The Blue Jackets?

It’s clear after details of the alleged phone scandal came out in Columbus that Mike Babcock is going to be in tough to last.

The story surrounding Mike Babcock’s alleged invasion of his players’ privacy, sort of exploded on Tuesday as the cast of Spittin’ Chiclets took aim at the controversial bench boss when it was relayed to them that at least one player was told to share photos from their phone so the coach could get to know him/them. While that might seem innocent enough for a typical coach — assuming the phrasing of told was changed to ‘asked if they would like to’ –, it’s a greasy situation for Babcock.

The coach has been given a second chance in the NHL, one that many believe he doesn’t necessarily deserve. He spent a long time away from the game after reports of inappropriate conduct with his former players and abuse of power in an unequal position of seniority and there are now many who have it out for him. Tuesday’s broken game of telephone proved it.

The NHLPA, the league, the Blue Jackets, and a number of media insiders all looked into the allegations, and no wrongdoing was found in this incident. Not everyone’s side of the story is out there so that needs to be taken into account, but Babcock admitted this is something he does with teams and explained the process of giving the players (and other team staff) a chance to share photos as a learning discovery exercise. He claimed it was completely voluntary, the players choose the photos, and he’s been doing it for years. Boone Jenner (who was mentioned by name in the report) said he was comfortable showing the coach and Babcock shared some of his own photos. Both expressed they were disappointed that the exchange was taken so out of context.

The Spittin’ Chiclets podcast isn’t changing their story or backing off one bit. Claiming the players are in a tough spot and that Babcock is lying, they claim that too many other players have discussed how uncomfortable that exchange is to be a worthwhile thing to be doing, especially for Babcock, who has a history of troubling exchanges with players and whose every move is being watched and dissected.

Elliotte Friedman wrote on Tuesday night that Babcock had asked to see players’ family photos dating back to his time in Detroit. This practice continued during his tenure in Toronto and has now resurfaced in Columbus. The only problem now is, that some people are out for blood, and any opportunity that arises, they’ll be circling like sharks. No, it doesn’t sound like Babcock’s actions were as egregious as initially portrayed, but will that matter when all is said and done?

Babcock is Going To Have a Hard Time Making It Through This Contract

As a result of this controversy, Mike Babcock now finds himself under intense scrutiny; more so than he already was. The Blue Jackets now know how quickly any hint of something out of the norm can turn into a scandal and they’ll have one of two choices if stuff like this continues to happen: vehemently back him or walk away.

Mike Babcock Columbus Blue Jackets coach
Mike Babcock Columbus Blue Jackets coach

Perhaps that’s why he was only given a two-year contract. Everyone had to know, at least deep down, this was potentially bound to get messy. The season hasn’t even started, Babcock didn’t really offend anyone (as per the investigation) and some are calling for his head. How much of that can the organization take without it becoming a major distraction?

The problem for Babcock isn’t even necessarily that he oversteps or does anything wrong. It’s that there is any slight appearance of impropriety from a coach who has a reputation like his. If the door is ajar just a crack, there will be people looking to blast it wide open.

The need for him to navigate the delicate optics of his role as an NHL coach has become increasingly evident. In this instance, if he were to continue to exercise at all, he needed to make it clear as day it was voluntary. He may have done that. Better yet, maybe don’t ask and wait for the players to volunteer the photos, if they ever do. Maybe none of that would have helped, but those of the kinds of things Babcock needs to now think about.

Maybe he’s able to tread that line successfully. In saying that, how much energy does that take from him while he’s trying to coach this Blue Jackets team? Can he do both and do it well? This has the makings of a short coaching tenure that doesn’t end well. However, if the players come to really like him, this also has the makings of a catalyst that could bond a team and an organization around their coach.

Next: Carey Price Talks Future, Knee Injury, and Being Open to Trade

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