COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Blue Jackets haven’t even opened training camp yet, and already, new coach Mike Babcock is alleged to have crossed the line with his players.
The Blue Jackets coach, who was fired by Toronto in 2019 and later accused of verbally and mentally abusing multiple NHL players, denied allegations made Tuesday on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast that he had scoured the cellphone pictures of Blue Jackets players during get-to-know-you meetings.
Podcast host Paul Bissonnette, a former NHL player and current NHL TV analyst, reported that Babcock had asked multiple players for their phones during initial meetings. Pictures on the phones, Bissonnette said, were then shown on a TV in Babcock’s office via Airplay.
“He gets to Columbus,” Bissonnette said on the podcast, “and one of the first things he does is he calls in Boone Jenner, the captain of the f—ing team, and says, ‘I want to see the photos in your phone. I want to know what type of person you are.’”
Bissonnette, in a Twitter post, said he had “tons of players confirm” the story as accurate. Both Babcock and Jenner denied the allegations in public statements issued through a Blue Jackets social media post.
In a subsequent, brief conversation with The Athletic, Babcock portrayed the exchange of pictures as an innocent project to get to know each other better before the season. He emphatically denied that players were forced to share all of their pictures with him. He said they were allowed to choose the pictures that were shared.
“(Bissonnette’s version) couldn’t be anything further from the truth,” Babcock told The Athletic. “They sit in my office, their phone in their hand, and they scroll through.”
Asked directly if they shared only the pictures they chose to share, Babcock replied, “100 percent.”
“I met with Boone first because he’s the captain,” Babcock said. “He showed me things about his home, his farm… He was about to get married, so (pictures of) his fiancee, too. It was a great conversation we had, a real good meeting. To think it was any other way is a huge mistake.
“This is me trying to get to know them and them getting know me. When I met with the Blue Jackets (to interview for the job), I introduced my family the same way. I think it’s important for them to get to know me. I’m not checking up on anybody. The season hasn’t even started.”
Jenner issued a statement through the club that read: “While meeting with Babs, he asked me about my family and where I’m from, my upcoming wedding and hockey-related stuff. He then asked if I had pictures of my family 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. To have this blown out of proportion is truly disappointing.”
Jenner, in a brief conversation with The Athletic, said it was up to him to decide which pictures to share.
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen declined to make a statement, but said he also was asked to share family pictures with Babcock as part of an early meeting.
“I’ve been doing this practice for a number of years,” Babcock told The Athletic. “As you’re trying to get to know the players, they’re trying to get to know you. You’re sharing stuff about you. They’re sharing stuff about their families, what’s important to them, where they come from…
“We had a program like this in Detroit and Toronto. It was a really positive thing. I think it’s really important to get to know the guys and for them to get to know you. What was portrayed on a podcast today was just so far from the truth it isn’t funny. It’s actually offensive.”
Bissonnette, in a follow-up social-media post, did not back down from the way he portrayed the story on the podcast. In fact, he said, he’d had “tons of players confirm it.” Contacted by The Athletic, Bissonnette disputed Babcock’s denial with a profanity. The NHL Players’ Association, contacted for comment, said it is looking into the allegations.
(Photo of Mike Babcock: Kyle Robertson / USA Today)