COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — With the start of their season less than a month away, the Blue Jackets have parted ways with their coach.
Mike Babcock agreed to step down on Sunday, just days after he was accused of violating players’ privacy by asking to inspect their phones. Babcock, who led Detroit to the Stanley Cup in 2008 and also coached Anaheim and Toronto, had faced similar accusations before. He was entering his first season in Columbus.
Associate coach Pascal Vincent has been promoted to Babcock’s role, signing a two-year deal.
“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 released 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, 60, was named coach on July 1, succeeding Brad Larsen, who went 62-86-16 in two seasons.
“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.
The move came after the NHL and representatives of its players union met to discuss the accusations, which came to light on the Spittin’ Chiclets hockey podcast, that Babcock had asked to view photos on the phones of Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner and forward Johnny Gaudreau.
“[Babcock] asked if I had pictures of my family and I was happy to share some with him. He showed me pictures of his family,” Jenner said in a response issued by the team. “I thought it was a great first meeting and good way for us to start to build a relationship.”
A Canadian cable network, Sportsnet, reported that league and union officials were initially satisfied with that explanation but later heard from other players who were uncomfortable with what had been happening.
Watch Mike Babcock introduced as Blue Jackets coach in the video player below.
The Blue Jackets hired Babcock knowing his reputation as a demanding coach and his past accusations. A player under him in Detroit, Johan Franzen, called him a “bully” and “the worst person I have ever met.” Babcock said at his introductory news conference that he thought he had learned how to better communicate during his time away from coaching after leaving Toronto in 2020.
Filling the gap will be Vincent, 51, who has never coached an NHL team. He played in the junior and minor leagues from 1989 to 1993 and has worked in the coaching ranks for decades. He became an NHL assistant with Winnipeg in 2011 and took over their minor-league affiliate in Manitoba in 2016. He was named the top coach in the American Hockey League 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. “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.”
Vincent joined the Blue Jackets in 2021 as part of Larsen’s staff before being retained by Babcock.
“Pascal Vincent is an outstanding coach,” Kekalainen said. “He knows our players and organization and is respected by everyone here. He was a strong candidate for our head coaching position several months ago and is in the best position to help us navigate this change as we begin camp and lead our team moving forward.”
The Blue Jackets open training camp on Sept. 20, four days before their first preseason exhibitions. They open the regular season Oct. 12 at Nationwide Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team coached by another former Blue Jackets coach, John Tortorella.
Vincent, Kekalainen, and President of Hockey Operations John Davidson are set to address the media on Monday during the annual preseason luncheon.