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We’ve Found The One Thing Mike Babcock Might Be Innocent Of

COLUMBUS, OHIO - JULY 01: Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach Mike Babcock addresses member of the media during a press conference at Nationwide Arena on July 01, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Getty Images)
Jason Mowry/Getty Images

When Paul Bissonnette, who sucks, accused Mike Babcock, who sucks, of doing a shitty thing, it put every hockey fan in the conundrum of having to believe one asshole or another. Frankly, I resent it. The season's off to a roaring start.

Babcock, a Cup-winner and once the league's highest-paid bench boss, is newly in charge of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He'd been out of the league for four years, an exile which included a stint coaching the University of Saskatchewan, because, well, he's a dick. He bullied players in Detroit and humiliated them in Toronto and made enemies ranging from journeymen to superstars.

One of those enemies is Paul Bissonnette, who has made no secret of his dislike for Babcock. Bissonnette is a former player, co-host of the Spittin' Chiclets podcast, and studio suit for TNT's NHL broadcasts. He's everything you might think a Barstool podcaster might be, right down to the sexism. But he does speak to players, so when he passed along an anonymous anecdote from one of them about Babcock, it was worth taking notice.

"[Babcock] called in players from his team and he'll say, 'Let me see your phone. Open up your photos and I want to see who you are as a person,'" Bissonnette said on Tuesday's show. "They plug it in—I think the video coach plugs it in—and then they bring it up on a flatscreen and he goes through the camera roll on your phone."

The allegation caused an immediate firestorm. Both the NHL and the players' union announced they would investigate. The story was believable because it was about Babcock. It was just as suspect because of the source.

Within hours, Columbus captain Boone Jenner, who had been mentioned specifically by Bissonnette, put out a statement through the team saying, no, that's not quite what happened.

"[Babcock] asked if I had pictures of my family," Jenner's statement read, "and I was happy to share some with him. He showed me pictures of his family. I thought it was a great first meeting and good way for us to start to build a relationship."

Johnny Gaudreau concurred, telling reporters "it was [Babcock's] way of kinda getting to know me, and I got to get to know him. I wasn't uncomfortable at all. I was showing him pictures of my family. If I had a problem with it, I would've been like, 'I don't think I'm comfortable with that.' But I had no problem with it.”

Babcock has long used sharing photos as a get-to-know-you activity when he has new players, according to Elliotte Friedman, who adds that some players like it and some don't care for it, but notes that given the widespread airing of grievances toward Babcock and how many in the league feel about him, "if a lot of people really hated this, we’d probably have heard much sooner." So it seems clear that this was a game of telephone gone wrong, with every step of the chain featuring someone willing to believe the worst of Babcock—not unreasonably—and Bissonnette sharing a version so ungenerous as to be factually incorrect.

"What was being reported by Paul Bissonette—or at least his characterizations of what transpired—isn’t consistent with what the players are reporting to the Players’ Association," said deputy commissioner Bill Daly, "including that none of them felt that the interactions were at all inappropriate or impromper."

Bissonette nonetheless doubled down. "I’ve had tons of players confirm it. Smarten the fuck up Babs. Shove your statement up his ass," he said in one tweet. "You want to fuck with the players we’re going to bend you over no spit, no lube, sandpaper finish," he said in another. Cool, great stuff, man.

If Babcock were looking to engineer a psyop to give himself the benefit of the doubt in any future allegations, he probably couldn't have done better than Paul Bissonnette going to the mat over his requests to see family photos. But this is also the reality for Columbus in hiring Babcock: He's going to be constantly under a spotlight, and on the shortest of leashes. He deserves it, too—there's no doubt about that much, at least.

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