NHL: With His Rep in Tatters, Will Babcock Coach Again?

With the National Hockey League on the verge of producing a “code of conduct” to pertain to matters between coaches and players, the focus has shifted to individual cases. That’s put the future of one Mike Babcock in question.

The former coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been in the news an awful lot lately. Since news of his treatment of a rookie Mitch Marner started making the rounds, more stories have emerged about his tenure as bench boss of the Detroit Red Wings as well. Johan Franzen called him “the worst person I have ever met” and Chris Chelios validated stories of verbal abuse.

That’s put Babcock on the unemployment line a lot longer than he otherwise would have.

In fact, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman at least two teams were on tap to hire Babcock immediately following his ouster from Leafdom. Now? Not so much.

What this generally has to do with is whether or not Babcock is worth the trouble. While he was once considered among the best coaches to ever step behind the bench, he’s now entered toxic territory. That’s not going to be something most franchises are going to want to touch, especially with the aforementioned code of conduct coming.

Like it or not, this is hockey’s reckoning. And while some self-described “old school” fans probably believe “what happens in the room stays in the room,” most reasonable people find no good justification for abuse – physical, emotional, verbal, or otherwise – by a person of authority.

Granted, this enters the area of partiality and that’s where the NHL’s code will be interesting. What some players tolerate will be different from what others will tolerate. But that’s life. Everybody’s different. Some people veer into fermented fits when they spy a typo on a hockey blog. Others react with more composure.

How the NHL will address character differences remains to be seen, but you have to imagine the code of conduct will ensure a suitable method of dealing with clear-cut cases of abuse. Most people know when a line has been crossed and most people know when others are acting in good faith or not.

As far as Babcock goes, what can you say? Franzen’s experience certainly had the effect of an abusive relationship, with the former Red Wing fearing his trip to the rink. Mike Commodore is certainly not a fan. Similarly, Chelios. Jason Spezza may or may not be a fan. Same with Mike Modano.

But how much of that is down to personal issues and how much of that is down to the actual job of a head coach? Babcock would, I think, argue that he did what he did to put together a winning hockey team. It wasn’t always profitable, it wasn’t ever popular. But, to tweak a prevalent cliché, “it was what it was.”

Right now, the prospect of Babcock working with any NHL team will come down to what works and what doesn’t. Teams won’t touch anything noxious, but they’ll put up with a lot if it means they can ice a winning team.

But can Babcock produce that winning team, especially with any potential PR risks lingering in the broader context? Good question.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

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