Mike Babcock is out as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets without serving behind the bench for a single game.
The 60-year-old resigned from the position Sunday, with associate coach Pascal Vincent taking over the role, the club announced.
“Upon reflection, it has become clear that continuing as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets was going to be too much of a distraction,” Babcock said in a statement issued by the team. “While I’m disappointed to not have had the opportunity to continue the work we’ve begun, I know it’s in the best interest of the organization for me to step away at this time. I wish everyone in the organization well in the upcoming season.”
Babcock came under NHLPA scrutiny Tuesday when podcast host Paul Bissonnette claimed a player told him the bench boss had repeatedly asked players – including Columbus captain Boone Jenner – for their phones, scrolled through their camera rolls, and projected the images onto a larger screen.
The veteran coach denied doing so shortly thereafter, and Jenner said they simply exchanged family photos.
The league and the NHLPA looked into the matter and were initially satisfied with Jenner’s explanation, as well as a similar one from teammate Johnny Gaudreau, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. However, the league and the players’ union reportedly changed their minds when several of Columbus’ younger players said they weren’t comfortable with what happened to them.
Among the most serious concerns for the NHLPA was a meeting that occurred away from team facilities that included several minutes of looking through a phone, multiple sources told Friedman.
“This was a difficult decision on everyone’s part, but one we felt necessary to ensure our focus remains on the players and the team’s upcoming season,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire Blue Jackets organization, we want to thank Mike for his hard work and the professionalism he has shown in working together on a plan to step down.”
Vincent, soon to turn 52, has been an associate coach in Columbus since 2021. Prior to joining the Blue Jackets’ staff, the Laval, Quebec native spent five campaigns as an assistant on the Winnipeg Jets’ bench and five seasons as head coach of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. He was named the AHL’s Coach of the Year in 2018.
“This is a difficult day, but I am looking forward to this opportunity and appreciate the organization’s confidence in me to lead this team,” Vincent said in a statement. “We have a great group of guys that have been working very hard to prepare for the season. My focus will be to work with our staff to help them get better every day and be ready for what we believe will be an exciting season.”
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