Blackhawks Coach Profile: Mike Babcock
We've covered several potential coaches for the Blackhawks so far (some requested by you). If you haven't already, comment on our Question of the Day. I would love to know how you rank the coaching prospects so far.
Today is part 9 of the Blackhawks Coach Profiles, which brings us Mike Babcock. He is an intriguing coaching option to say the least. I think the Blackhawks could be better off with other coaches, but certainly could be worse off than Babcock. Let's examine his career to this point:
Mike Babcock got his first head coaching job with the Anaheim (formerly Mighty) Ducks for the 2002-03 season. In his first season as head coach, he helped lead the team to 40-27-9-6 season and a 15-6 Stanely Cup playoffs record, ultimately losing in the Cup Finals to the New Jersey Devils. The next year with the Ducks saw a dastardly dip in success to 29-35-10-8. After the lockout season in 2004, Babcock declined an offer to remain with Anaheim and was hired as the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
With the Red Wings, Babcock became an extreme success. Under Babcock, Detroit never missed the postseason, making 3 Conference Finals, 2 Stanley Cup Finals, and 1 Stanley Cup Championship. With Detroit, he finished with a regular season record of 458-223-105 and a postseason record of 67-56. During his tenure with Red Wings, he became the winningest coach in franchise history and the second fastest coach to win 500 games in his career. Despite an overwhelming mount of success with Detroit, Babcock never won the Jack Adams Award, instead settling for 3rd ('08), 2nd ('14), and later 2nd ('17) while he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After a disagreement over a contract extension, Mike Babcock received permission from Detroit to seek employment elsewhere and landed in Toronto. At the time, this was a majorly rebuilding Toronto team (which is probably the most relevant piece of this article to the Blackhawks as they currently stand). Despite finishing with the worst record in the league in the 2015-16 season (good for a very nice 69 points), Babcock was praised for how he handled a very bad team with patience and excellence. A result of this horrible record landed the Maple Leafs Auston Matthews, who is one of their very best players and current alternate captain.
With the addition of Matthews, Babcock led Toronto to three straight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances, though each ended in a first round exit. Progress was seemingly made though as Babcock took a bad, rebuilding Leafs team to three straight playoff appearances and they stuck with their opponents in those three appearances losing in 6, then 7 the next two years.
His reputation as a great head coach was bolstered by former players who praised his coaching techniques, but was ultimately hurt more than supported through revelations of former players of his Johan Franzen and Chris Chelios who described him as a "terrible man, the worst person I've ever met." Additionally, it was confirmed that in a meeting between Babcock and Mitch Marner (of the Maple Leafs), Babcock asked Marner to rank his teammates in order of their work ethic, and then in a subsequent team meeting, shared these rankings and acknowledged Marner without the player's permission.
Ultimately, after a 9-10-4 start to the 2019-20 season, including a six-game losing streak, Babcock was fired due to the on-ice performance combined with the off-ice findings and toxic culture. After a year off of coaching as an analyst for NBC, Babcock returned to coaching as the head coach of the University of Saskatchewan. His contract with the university is for two seasons.
So what do you think about Babcock for the Blackhawks? I think he has a very proven track record of success with both winning teams and rebuilding teams. I think he has a history of getting the best out of his players at all. But it cannot be ignored that he treated players as he did. Nobody is deserving of a toxic work environment, and if Chelios and Franzen, who were part of enormously successful and winning teams, still had the reality of knowing he was a "terrible man," that should give teams some pause. Rarely will a team have a run of euphoric success as the Red Wings did, and amidst a rebuild, things could get quite dicey. Will Babcock be able to keep his attitude in check during the trials and tribulations of a rebuild?
Ultimately, I don't know if I can answer this question. It's a cop out answer, but it is up to the Blackhawks' brass to determine if Babcock could have the self-control needed to coach a rebuilding team. I think Babcock is certainly an intriguing candidate, but it's just another candidate I just don't see working out for the Blackhawks. That being said, I don't think this is the last the NHL has heard from Mike Babcock as head coach...