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‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time’

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
6 months ago
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Those are the words of civil rights activist Maya Angelou, and they ring true in the world of hockey in the days following Mike Babcock’s resignation from his role as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
His tenure came to an emphatic end Sunday afternoon before it could even get started as the disgraced bench boss’ own alleged actions came back to bite him.
Babcock, who was out of professional hockey for four years after allegations of mistreatment during his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs et al, couldn’t get out of his own way.
What started as allegations of Babcock looking through players’ phones last week quickly turned into a full-fledged NHLPA investigation which quickly turned to meetings beyond the rink and eventually, Babcock’s downfall. Then, more horrific allegations came out.
Sunday afternoon, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that meetings of Babcock looking through players’ phones might’ve gone well with veteran players like Boone Jenner, but it didn’t go so well with younger players. Citing multiple sources, Friedman added that one of these meetings occurred away from team facilities and “was beyond the scope of what was initially understood to have occurred.”
Then Monday, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported Babcock “allegedly intimidated and bullied the youngest players in the Blue Jackets’ organization,” not shying away from noting how defiant Columbus’ leadership was going so far as thanking Babcock for the work he put in.
All of this, mind you, years after plenty of former players spoke out about his actions in past roles. Johan Franzen, Chris Chelios, Mike Commodore and all spoke out about Babcock’s past abuses. And with the Leafs, Babcock had a rookie Mitch Marner make a list of the hardest working teammates to the laziest, then revealed it to players he had listed near the bottom.
Paul Bissonnette addressed the fallout on Tuesday’s episode of Spittin’ Chiclets, where he said his hope is that it sends a message to those who abuse their power in the hockey world.
“If you’re thinking this is cancel culture, no,” he said. “This is a guy who’s been known to do this s–t doing the exact same s–t after going away for four years who just didn’t learn his lesson.
“He to be around the game, he doesn’t deserve to be around these kids, and especially have control of their futures in the palm of his hands in which he seems to really flex that power dynamic, has in the past, and will continue to do it if you give him another f–king job.
“We don’t want to see these younger players go through this bulls–t anymore, and we think that with this situation coming out, it’s going to send a message to that ‘old boys club.'”
The question now is what further fallout of this occurs. As Seravalli noted in his aforementioned article, the Blue Jackets organization did a penurious job handling the situation from day one, and the fact that GM Jarmo Kekalainen isn’t following Babcock out the door is nothing short of shocking.
And even further, what’s the fallout in further hockey circles? That’s one we won’t know of today, or maybe not even for years down the road. One thing is clear, though, and that’s the days of power-hungry people in significant roles in the NHL are dwindling fast.
Joel Quenneville, another of the NHL’s winningest head coaches of all time, along with his former boss, Stan Bowman, has been out of the league for two years following the Kyle Beach cover-up. The pair have been seeking reinstatement as of last July, but the disaster that has been the Babcock saga might be enough to keep the other two out of the league forever.
Babcock himself has long been considered an old-school coach. A tough-to-play-for, push-you-to-your-limits and get-the-most out of you kind of coach.
But one thing I keep finding myself thinking back to are the words of former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Frank Corrado, who played under Babcock in Toronto.
He spoke out last week about how all Babcock cares about “is himself,” and made a stark comparison when it came to old-school coaches.
“I played for (John) Tortorella. Tortorella is old school, he’ll get right in your face and tell you when you’re playing like garbage or whatever the case may be,” Corrado said. “He tells it to you direct and blunt and you may not like it.
“My issue, and a lot of people’s issues with the way Babs does things, is he doesn’t do that. He doesn’t get in your face, he doesn’t tell you direct and blunt and straightforward. He plays these stupid head games around you and that’s what frustrates players. I think it’s important to separate the two when it comes to old-school guys.”
Through it all, the NHLPA itself deserves massive credit where it’s due. They not only were quick to address the allegations but launched a deep and incredibly effective investigation to get to the bottom of what was going on. This in and of itself is going to bode well for its new executive director, Marty Walsh, and his new No. 2, former player Ron Hainsey.
They cut through the water carrying, they cut through the misleading sole statements of Babcock and Jenner and did what they were supposed to: stand up for their players. That will go a long way with the rank-and-file of players.
And remember: When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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