It was expected by now that the Blue Jackets would officially have their head coach in place by now. However, earlier today, Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reported (Twitter link) that the delay isn’t tied to their own deliberations but rather that something and/or someone was holding up the process.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reports (Twitter link) that the someone in question is Mike Babcock and the something pertains to his old contract in Toronto. Dreger reports that Babcock is expected to become the new bench boss in Columbus but the hold-up in making the move official is due to his former deal with the Maple Leafs which doesn’t expire until the end of June. Speculatively, based on this, it would seem like the Blue Jackets are waiting for the final month of his eight-year, $50MM contract from back in 2015 to end so that they won’t have to be responsible for paying for part of that. (Babcock will receive that money no matter what, either all from Toronto or partially from Columbus with the Maple Leafs covering the difference.)
Babcock last coached in the NHL back in the 2019-20 campaign before being let go by Toronto after a sluggish 9-10-4 start to their season. His tenure in Toronto wasn’t the greatest overall but it came on the heels of a successful ten-year run behind the bench in Detroit, anchored by a Stanley Cup title in 2008. Overall, the 60-year-old has a 700-418-183 record over parts of 17 seasons between Anaheim, Detroit, and Toronto but word surfaced following his departure from the Maple Leafs about a toxic playing environment with both the Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Internationally, he is the only member of the ’Triple Gold’ club among coaches (Olympics, World Championships, and a Stanley Cup).
Babcock was briefly behind the bench again in 2021-22, working with the University of Saskatchewan on a volunteer basis, receiving a two-year deal. However, he stepped aside last summer, indicating at the time that he was retiring from coaching although he could change his mind if the right situation came up. It appears that he feels the Blue Jackets are the right situation.
Columbus was active last summer, making a big splash on the free agent market in Johnny Gaudreau while working out a multi-year deal with Patrik Laine to give their attack a strong one-two punch. However, it didn’t materialize in the form of victories as the Blue Jackets finished dead last in the Eastern Conference with just 59 points, a sizable drop from the 81 they had the year before. That resulted in Brad Larsen being let go at the end of the season.
Babcock will now be tasked with trying to turn things around in Columbus, a team that has some quality youngsters in the organization already while they’re set to add another with the third-overall pick later this month, a selection that could yield the future top center they’ve long been seeking. It’s a surprising turn of events for someone who hadn’t really been considered much in recent years for NHL coaching opportunities but if he’s able to get the Blue Jackets back into the playoff mix relatively quickly, he’ll have a chance at finishing his coaching career on a better note than it would have ended otherwise.
Assuming this hire is made official – though it might take a few more weeks – there are now three remaining head coaching vacancies in the NHL – the Ducks, Flames, and Rangers.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.