Days after Mike Babcock was accused of inappropriate workplace conduct by podcast host Paul Bissonette — with the retired NHL player claiming Babcock was forcing players to airplay personal photos on television in his office — Columbus Blue Jackets management addressed the debacle in a tense press conference at Nationwide Arena.
"It’s on us. It’s on me…. Sometimes you flat-out make a mistake. We made a mistake," said Blue Jackets president of hockey ops John Davidson, per Associated Press reporter Stephen Whyno.
"Maybe they were right," Davidson said of people who were critical of Mike Babcock's hiring in the first place.
Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, meanwhile. said he apologized to Blue Jackets players this morning for hiring the embattled head coach.
"I believe that Mike Babcock deserved another opportunity to coach," Kekalainen said. "Obviously that was a mistake and that responsibility’s mine."
Still, even with the talk of accountability, Kekalainen detailed what should've been a red flag: Babcock apparently pulled the same phone stunt he was accused of pulling with his players on the 57-year-old executive.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Mike Babcock did the phone thing with him as well. “Personally I had no problem with it but I can see how it might put someone in an uncomfortable situation.”
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) September 18, 2023
But while Kekalainen stated he doesn’t believe there was any ill intent behind Babcock’s actions, he admitted that some of his players were not comfortable with his methods and that was concerning.
Blue Jackets majority owner John H. McConnell announced in a team-issued statement Monday morning that he does not anticipate further changes to the team's leadership, erasing speculation that one or both of Kekalainen and Davidson would end up on the chopping block alongside Babcock.
"Additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp in two days," McConnell’s statement read.
To say this story escalated rapidly would be the understatement of the century. Initially, it seemed like it would die quickly after both Babcock and captain Boone Jenner released statements through the team on Wednesday morning refuting the Spittin' Chiclets host's version of events.
Both Columbus’ captain and the now-former coach described their encounter as nothing more than a way of sharing snippets of one another's life in an effort to build a working relationship. During an appearance on the 32 Thoughts Podcast on the same day as Jenner and Babcock condemned Bissonette’s comments, Blue Jackets star winger Johnny Gaudreau gave a similar account to Jenner when asked about his photo-exchange meet-and-greet with Babcock.
But the story didn’t end there, obviously, with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reporting things changed on Wednesday night when the NHLPA received information that some of the younger Blue Jackets players were uncomfortable with their interactions with Babcock.
Friedman later reported that the information gathered on Wednesday night prompted NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh and assistant executive director Ron Hainsey to begin an investigation before flying out to Columbus and leading what was described as an "intense" meeting.
On Friday, Walsh and Hainsey relayed their findings during a joint meeting with the NHL and NHLPA. Saturday was arguably the quietest day of the scandal in the public eye, according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshinski, because that’s the day Columbus and Babcock started plotting his exit.
By Sunday, the Blue Jackets announced that Babcock had resigned and Pascal Vincent would be taking over as the team’s head coach.
Babcock’s quick and swift dismissal comes as no surprise given his spotty reputation of being an emotionally abusive coach during his days with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Vincent, 51, had served as the Blue Jackets’ associate coach since the 2021-22 season. Before joining Columbus, Vincent spent 10 seasons with the Winnipeg Jets organization, serving as an NHL assistant for the first half of his tenure before pivoting to head coach of the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Vincent was named AHL Coach Of The Year for the 2017-18 season.