Mike Babcock is about to start a stint with NBC as an analyst for NHL games being broadcast by the network this season. Before he provides years on insight into his first contest, the former Toronto Maple Leafs coach wanted to sit down and “clear the air” when it came to the rumors surrounding his termination, his tenure as an NHL coach, and specifically potential friction with Leafs forward Mitch Marner and former player Johan Franzen.
After Babcock was let go, it didn’t take long for a story to surface that he had revealed details of a private conversation with Marner about the work ethic of the members of the Maple Leafs roster, one in which Marner had ranked everyone. It was an awkward position to put a player in with his teammates and the entire situation was described as the coach having singled out a star for the sole purpose of embarrassing him. In short, speculation was Babcock was making an example out of a talented, young kid who, at times, could have probably worked harder at both ends of the ice. The story exploded and a ton of testimonies followed about how Babcock was part of a coaching fraternity who often emotionally abused players to get what he wanted out of them.
On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun posted pieces of his conversation with the former coach.
Babcock contends it was a huge mistake doing what he did, but notes the way the story has been relayed since his termination is not accurate. He did not post a big sheet on the wall or intentionally signal Marner out. In fact, he says he went to the player and offered to fix something he knew he’d likely set in motion, but unintentionally.
How It Really Went Down
According to Babcock, he’d had a private meeting asking Marner where he thought he would rank himself in terms of work ethic. He had intended to keep the specifics of all of his player and coaching meetings private, but in talking with Tyler Bozak in a later conversation, showed him where Marner ranked himself. He said, “When we were talking about competing and I said, ‘Well look where Mitch ranks it.’”
He knew right away he’d messed up in sharing that private conversation he’d had with Marner earlier.
As LeBrun relays the information, Babcock went to Marner. He explains:
“Well, as soon as I did that, and he saw the list, I knew that I had made a major mistake. After the meeting with Bozak, I went right into the dressing room. I grabbed Mitch and said, ‘Mitch, this is what I did. I screwed you here.’’’
Marner didn’t want to make a thing out of it so both sides left it alone. Babcock realizes that doing so was a mistake. He says he should have addressed the team and admitted he accidentally threw Marner under the bus. “I could have made a lesser deal of it,” Babcock said.
Babcock Admits He Wasn’t Perfect
Babcock adds that the stories that he and Marner had a rocky or poor relationship just aren’t accurate. He admits that he made mistakes as a coach over his 32 years, but that everyone makes mistakes. It’s human nature in the heat of competition to say or do something you wish you hadn’t.
He said when he realized he’d made the mistake, he spoke with then-GM Lou Lamoriello and his other coaches and they tried to figure out how best to handle the situation. At the end of the day, he notes, “And there’s no question that it was all on me. Not on Mitch. It was all on me. I made a mistake. My fault.’’
What About The Franzen Incident?
Babcock was accused or verbally abusing former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen as well. After retiring, Franzen called Babcock a great coach but a terrible person and a bully. Babcock said, “Nothing can hurt you more than something like this.”
Babcock says he feels awful that this was something Franzen was feeling at the time and he didn’t know about it. Considering the former coach is such an advocate for mental awareness, it stings that he was unintentionally doing mistreating one of his players.
But, he said:
“It doesn’t matter what I perceive. When you’re talking about this kind of thing, if the person — whether it’s a co-worker, your spouse, your student — if they think that’s the environment, that’s what they’re feeling. Now, I sure wish I would have known about that then. And I could have done something about that. Besides apologize, there’s not much I can do about that now. But does it sting? Does it hurt? Absolutely.’’
He noted that he’s worked his entire career trying to make players the best versions of themselves and that it was not his intention to create such a hurtful environment for Franzen. Babcock hints that’s something he’ll have to live with.
As for whether or not he’ll ever coach again in the NHL, he’s not sure. He says, “It’s got to be the right fit. But I’ve stayed busy. My interaction with NHL coaches has been spectacular. It’s unbelievable. And I’ve talked to a number of managers, so that’s been a lot of fun.”
It’s good to see Babcock feels remorse over the Marner situation and perhaps it wasn’t everything “insiders” made it out to be. That said, even if we chalk what happened there to a mistake or error in judgement (he’s right in that everyone has said things they wish they could take back), the narrative here doesn’t sit well.
It’s a bit troubling to know that Babcock sees himself as somewhat of a victim here. He’s using his association with mental awareness causes to play the “hurt” card and that he wished he would have known what he was doing.
Unfortunately, Franzen’s account of his history with Babcock was that hundreds of instances of the coach being verbally abusive took place and even if, for some reason, people don’t consider that abuse, it’s enough to suggest that last person we should be feeling “sorry for” is the coach. He seems to have not only gotten away with all of this, but is about to start a brand new job with NBC.
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