Former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has been on somewhat of a “reclamation tour” recently, addressing accusations about his character and coaching tactics.
Ever since Babcock was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in November 2019, several of his former NHL players have been outspoken against the coach. One of those players is former Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, who was forced to leave pro hockey early due to serious head injuries.
Franzen had some of the most disparaging things to say about Babcock, going as far as calling him the “worst person” he had ever met.
“As a coach he is extremely accurate and prepared. He is great at putting together a gaming system and getting everyone to buy into it. That’s his strong side,” Franzen told Expressen. “But then he’s a terrible man, the worst person I’ve ever met. A bully who cheated on people, it could be cleaners in the Detroit arena or anyone. He jumped on people just because.”
Babcock briefly addressed the claims during a stint as an analyst with NBC Sports this season. He has chalked up most of it as misunderstandings, downplaying the accusations from the NHL players.
The former Detroit coach had stayed away from addressing the Franzen issue specifically, until this week during an interview with SportNet’s Christine Simpson. Simpson asked Babcock about the Leafs accusations first, then went back to his time in Detroit.
Simpson: “When you think back to some of the tactics you used with (Franzen), do you think you went too far?”
Babcock: “I thought we had a really good relationship. Now, did things not go as good at times? Absolutely. Did I ever, in my mind, try to bully anybody? That is the craziest thing I ever heard of. Now I also, though, didn’t even know what mental health was. So anytime someone, whether they work for you, whether you’re in a relationship with them, you’re wrong ... you never want to cross the line, and when you do, you want to own it. And if you do, you should own it. But if you didn’t, you shouldn’t own that either.”
Simpson: “Did you reach out to Franzen?”
Babcock: “Yes I have.”
Simpson: “So you apologized?”
Babcock: “No, I reached out to him. He didn’t get back to me.”
Babcock went on to explain he has coached a lot of players over the years and that he expects some of them were not always happy with him.
“I’ve coached veteran teams in the Stanley Cup final and scratched guys -- you’ve made people mad, that’s reality,” he said. “You know, I’ve coached a lot of teams and had a lot of success, and good people have hired me. I didn’t have a Zoom meeting with Bryan Murray before I went to Anaheim. I went to Detroit, Jimmy Nill was my GM, at the ‘04 World Championship, they hired me. Steve Yzerman played for me and worked with me for four years, and he hired me for two Olympics. Brendan Shanahan hired me after he played for me. Some of this, the smell test doesn’t add up.”
You can watch the whole interview here:
Babcock now coaching Canadian college players
Babcock is now taking over the University of Saskatchewan hockey team as head coach. The school announced Saturday that Babcock will lead the team on a full-time volunteer basis for the next two seasons.
“I am excited to work with Huskie athletes, back in my hometown, at the university where I had the opportunity to play under legendary coach Dave King,” Babcock said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Babcock was working as an advisor to the University of Vermont’s ice hockey coaches.
Babcock spent 10 seasons with the Red Wings from 2005-2015, posting a record of 458-223-105 in 786 career games. He coached Detroit to a Stanley Cup championship in 2008. They nearly repeated in 2009 but lost in the final to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Babcock left Detroit in 2015 when he signed an 8-year, $50 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In parts of five seasons under Babcock, the Maple Leafs posted a record of 173-133-45 in 351 regular-season games and an 8-12 record in three postseason appearances.