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Blue Jackets executive admits a 'major misstep' in hiring Mike Babcock, who was forced to resign

New Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent answers questions Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, during the team's media day in advance of Wednesday's NHL hockey training camp in Columbus, Ohio. (Adam Cairns/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Columbus Blue Jackets owners and executives on Monday were contrite over the forced resignation of controversial coach Mike Babcock days before the opening of training camp and eager to move on from the turmoil that engulfed the organization.

“All we can do now is learn from it and do everything we can to help our coaches and players get ready for the season,” said John Davidson, the Blue Jackets' president of hockey operations. “I know this is a major misstep that we have to move past.”

Babcock resigned on Sunday after requesting to view photos on players' cellphones as part of a bonding effort led to an investigation last week by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. He was gone after two months on the job, with assistant Pascal Vincent tapped to replace him and given a two-year contract.

Despite the misstep, Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen remain in charge of hockey operations, with ownership confirming that in a statement.

“We do not anticipate further changes to our hockey leadership team at this time,” the owners, led by John P. McConnell, said. “Additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp in two days.”

Kekalainen said he met with players Monday and apologized for the situation.

“At the end of the day, I believed that Mike Babcock deserved another opportunity to coach,” Kekalainen said at the team's previously scheduled media day. “Obviously, that was a mistake, and that responsibility is mine.”

Babcock’s conduct was under the microscope given his history of polarizing, old-school coaching techniques, many of which came to light after he was fired by Toronto in 2019. This was his first NHL job since.

Vincent, 52, was an assistant under fired coach Brad Larsen for the past two seasons and stayed on when Babcock was hired. He twice interviewed for the job that he got after Babcock's resignation.

The Laval, Quebec, native said the past week was difficult. His biggest takeaway from the experience: “Things change quick.”

“Sometimes you do things a certain way and you’re trying to do the right thing, and you’re not sure where it’s going,” Vincent said. “The first thing you know is that you’re put in the position that you’ve been dreaming of your whole life. What I’ve learned is, if you do things the proper way and do it for the right reason with the right intentions, you’re ready when the opportunity is presented. That’s how I feel."

The Blue Jackets were hoping for a fresh start under the veteran Babcock, who had a Stanley Cup championship and two Olympic gold medals on his resume. Injury-plagued Columbus finished last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 25-48-9 and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner, who initially supported Babcock when the conduct questions first surfaced, said the team is ready to move forward with Vincent.

“There’s been a lot of noise the last little bit for us, where we just want to shift our focus, and with (Vincent) as our coach, we’re looking to do that right away,” Jenner said.

Forward Patrik Laine, who has known Vincent since arriving in the NHL at age 18, said he respects and appreciates the abilities of the new coach.

“Obviously, it’s not something anybody wants to go through the week before camp starts, but I feel like we’re a more tight and supportive group right now," Laine said. "Everybody’s excited to get the camp going.”


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Nicole Kraft, The Associated Press

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