Frankly, I’m getting tired of talking about ex-Toronto Maple Leaf’s head coach Mike Babcock. However, it strikes me that the number and tenor of the accusations that have come out recently from his former players speak to a bigger problem that includes Babcock, but that speaks to a much bigger problem. And that problem is the cultural change that needs to go on in NHL hockey. That’s especially true if hockey is to become and remain a game that the whole family can embrace.
What’s Darren McCarty’s Story?
On December 7, former Detroit Red Wings forward Darren McCarty joined the group of ex- Babcock players who have now reported issues about the iconic coach’s disrespectful behavior. McCarty’s specific belief is that Babcock’s stubborn coaching style actually cost the Red Wings the 2009 Stanley Cup.
McCarty started with the Edmonton Oilers but played 13 NHL seasons with the Red Wings with three head coaches (Scotty Bowman, Dave Lewis, and Babcock from 1993-2004). During McCarty’s tenure with the team, the Red Wings won three Stanley Cup championships. Babcock became the Red Wings’ head coach when the NHL returned from the 2004-05 lockout. He coached the Red Wings to one of those championships.
When Babcock first joined the Red Wings, McCarty had joined the Calgary Flames, but he returned to his old Red Wings’ team for the 2007-08 season. As he reported in an article published by the Detroit Free Press on December 7, McCarty found things had changed drastically because Babcock was the coach.
The first change he noticed was in the Red Wings’ dressing room. As he stated, “Our (dressing) room worked in different ways and when I came back you could tell that things were different.” However, he also reported that “The thing that didn’t change was that guys played for each other.”
During the 2007-08 season, the Red Wings had one of the NHL’s more deeply-talented teams. That team went on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins (with Sidney Crosby) to win the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. The next season both teams returned for a rematch; however, this time the Penguins won in seven games.
In his recording of that series of events today, McCarty noted that Detroit had played well despite Babcock’s “demeanor” during the seasons. However, the team missed a golden opportunity to win back-to-back Stanley Cups because of his coaching.
And McCarty emphasized that the team played well “In spite of him (Babcock).” McCarty was even more specific when he noted that he had “learned that more getting into ’09 because we won in ’08 in spite of him and lost in ’09 because of him.”
Why was that the case? Because, as McCarty noted, Babcock misused Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg simply because he was “stubborn” and “did it his way.”
Other Emerging Reports about Babcock
McCarty’s condemnation today has only been one of the many that have come forth in the past few weeks. Babcock coached the Red Wings for 10 seasons and left to become the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he had been coaching until his dismissal. Since his departure from the Maple Leafs, Babcock has come under repeated fire for his poor treatment of players.
To be truthful, there were indications of this stubbornness and mistreatment – or simply mean-spiritedness – in Babcock’s actions when he was the Maple Leafs coach. One of many examples was the benching of veteran Jason Spezza, who had signed a league minimum contract to play in his hometown of Toronto. That action simply, to many fans, seemed unnecessarily inconsiderate. Many suggested it was Babcock reminding Dubas, who it was thought signed Spezza without Babcock’s blessing, who was the boss of the team.
Chris Chelios on Babcock’s Treatment of Johan Franzen
As well, although the events happened seasons before, recent accusations by former player Chris Chelios report that Babcock had given former Red Wings player Johan Franzen a nervous breakdown because of Babcock’s constant criticism of his player. Franzen admitted as much in an interview this past week in his home country of Sweden and called Babcock the worst person he’s ever known. McCarty did nothing but echo those same sentiments, reiterating to the Free Press that Babcock might have been a great tactical coach, but he was cruel as a person.
McCarty noted that, as a coach, Babcock’s “Preparation, X’s and O’s, practice, just like the guys say, there’s nobody better. It’s unbelievable. But then the ego and the disrespect for people. And it’s not just the Johan Franzens and the Chris Chelioses. It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s a personal thing. So it could be the one who changes the garbage, and he doesn’t change it properly or whatever … So all that stuff that happened with Mule, it doesn’t surprise me because I could see how he was as a person.”
[As an aside, former teammate and captain Steve Yzerman nicknamed Franzen was nicknamed “The Mule” because, as Yzerman stated, “he carries the load.” But, why pick on Franzen who was a model for his workmanlike service and who was named the Red Wings Rookie of the Year by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters’ Association? It makes no sense to me.]
McCarty said that the toxic nature of Babcock’s behavior “just gradually grew.” And, “it festered and it festered and it got out of control and the disrespect got out of control and now you’re in 2019 with everybody else saying things.”
McCarty believes that’s why it’s coming to the surface now. “I can see how it got here because it was never handled. And that’s the sport.”
He noted that Franzen had called Babcock the “worst person he’s ever met” in an interview with Swedish publication Expressen on December 2. McCarty noted that Babock is “up there on my list, too.” Although he said he and Babcock got along well, he felt forced to engage in the “Me, Too” conversation going on in hockey today. The message in all this conversation is simple: the “bottom line is be kind, and don’t be a (jerk). And (Babcock) can’t do either one as a person.”
Where Does All This Leave Mike Babcock Now?
Given the overwhelming nature of the conversation has been started about Mike Babcock and the piling on of charges by his former players about a coach who’s already been painted in far less than stellar terms, one has to wonder what organization might hire Babcock again to coach.
Here’s hoping, if all this is true, we won’t hear the name Mike Babcock as an NHL coach again – ever. There simply needs to be a change in the culture of hockey to keep it a family-friendly game. The kind of abuse we’ve been talking about teaches no one positive lessons about how to treat other people – even professional NHL players.
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