F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second jobs in American life,” but that’s a mistake. Martha Stewart is on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, right? America loves redemption. Tiger Woods, for example, is on his second redemption. Or maybe his third. Tracking is difficult.
Currently, the Blue Jackets are one of five NHL teams with a coaching vacancy. The others are the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. There may be more to come (Pittsburgh? Toronto?).
One of these teams will likely hire Mike Babcock, who needs redemption. According to New York Post hockey columnist Larry Brooks, the team might be the Blue Jackets. All I can add is that Babcock has the support of the Jackets’ hockey operations department, and his candidacy is a serious one.
Babcock won 700 NHL games, a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals, among others.
Someone else might take Joel Quenneville, who not only needs redemption but also needs the blessing of league commissioner Gary Bettman. I don’t think the Jackets will go the Q route because their timeline for naming a coach is ahead of Bettman’s timeline for potentially bringing back Quenneville.
Quenneville won 969 NHL games – he is second on the all-time list behind Scotty Bowman – and three Stanley Cups.
I believe the Jackets will promote associate coach Pascal Vincent, but that’s just a guess on my part. I don’t discount anything or anyone, not Babcock, not even Quenneville.
As Tom Petty tells us in “Lonesome Sundown,” redemption comes to those who wait, and forgiveness is the key. How long must one wait to be redeemed? That is the question. The court of public opinion is imaginary.
Babcock, 60, was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019 with four years left on his contract. On his way out the door, he was accused of verbal and psychological abuse by several former players. Two anecdotes stand out.
No. 1: The Toronto Sun reported that, in Mitch Marner’s rookie season in 2016-17, Babcock asked Marner to make a list of the team’s veterans and rank them first to last in terms of work ethic. That list is shared by at least one veteran.
As Babcock sought compensation, he described a lesson that went wrong, admitted that he makes mistakes and said he apologized to Marner.
No. 2: During a playoff game in 2008, Babcock, then the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, launched a verbal attack on Johan Franzen that chilled the Detroit bench.
Franzen, whose career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome, told a Swedish newspaper that he dreaded going to the rink when Babcock was his coach. He said Babcock was, “a horrible person. The worst I’ve ever met. He’s a bully who attacks people. It could be anyone.”
This is how Babcock described him on his way out the door in Toronto, a tough media market at the Center of the Hockey Universe: as calculating and verbal abuse. Is it too much of a stretch to say that John Tortorella was portrayed the same way when he came out of New York or Vancouver? How would Pierre-Luc Dubois portray Tortorella’s dark side in Columbus?
Do these descriptions describe the full extent of a person or a coach?
In fact, Babcock has reasons to take a long look in the mirror. What did he see now? Does he have to apologize to anyone? He’s been waiting four years for his next chance, but is that enough? Will the fans accept him? The players?
Quenneville was forced to resign from his job as coach of the Florida Panthers in 2021, when the past caught up with his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Cases are flying. The lawsuits are based on allegations of sexual abuse, the alleged perpetrator is former Blackhawks video coach, Brad Aldrich, and one of the victims is former Blackhawks player, Kyle Beach.
The Blackhawks covered it for 10 years.
Quenneville was in the room when the allegations were first discussed in 2010, after the Blackhawks won the Western Conference title and before they won the Stanley Cup. Quenneville was described as worried, at the time, about his team losing focus amid a circus of bad PR. He left the room believing that the president of the group would address the issue.
Quenneville said nothing.
Three weeks passed before a team executive reported the incident to the HR department. Aldrich was given an option – resign or be investigated. Aldrich chose the former. In one of his next jobs, on the hockey staff at Miami University in Oxford, he was accused of sexual assault (no charges were filed). He was later convicted of criminal sexual assault and sentenced to nine months in prison in Michigan. The victim was a high school player.
I read the 69-page report more than once. This removes one of the common, public complaints against Quenneville, that he gave Aldrich a job recommendation. He didn’t. In the grand scheme of things, does that matter?
Quenneville was one of several guys — along with team president John McDonough, GM Stan Bowman and assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, among others — who were in the room in 2010. They all let Aldrich go. What is Quenneville’s fault? Cheveldayoff’s involvement in the cover-up was called “minor” and he continued his GM job in Winnipeg. Will that be the same?
Can Quenneville (or, for that matter, Cheveldayoff, or any of them) forgive himself? Has he apologized to Aldrich’s victims? Can they forgive him?
Can Quenneville be redeemed?
If so, when? And where?
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This article originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch: Babcock, Quenneville await NHL second acts, can Columbus deliver?