Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland defends his record in Detroit with embattled Mike Babcock

This in from Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland, his statement to the media that he never heard about former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock abusing his players. Holland told reporters

“I’ve been a manager for 22 years. I’ve been (with head coaches) Scotty Bowman, Dave Lewis, Mike Babcock, Jeff Blashill and now Tipp (Dave Tippett). At the end of the year, I always do exit interviews. I started that at the beginning. Do players not like their role, not like the coach, not liking who they’re playing with – yeah, I hear that all the time. I hear that all the time.

“You talk about Johan Franzen, I can’t speak for Johan. And when he came out, he was very clear and thought Mike Babcock was a tremendous coach. He doesn’t like him as a person. And I would say when you have a 23-man roster and when I was in Detroit with Mike Babcock, there were some players in that locker room that didn’t like the coach, some players in that locker room who didn’t have any feelings either way, and I know there were some players in the locker room who thought he was the best coach that they ever played for. No different than when I played from 1975 to ’85. When you got to dole out ice time, when you got to go through your process, some people are going to like you, some people aren’t.”

All this comes after former Red Wings player Johan Franzen complained of such abuse, calling Babcock the worst person he’d ever known, and Franzen’s former teammate Chris Chelios said on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast: “[Franzen] was hurt at the time of the playoffs, we lost to Nashville…and some of the things he said to him on the bench,” Chelios said. “I don’t know what he said to him behind closed doors — but he was blatantly verbally assaulting him during the game…

“It got to the point for Johan — no one really knew he was suffering with the concussion and depression — he just broke down and had a nervous breakdown. Not only on the bench, but after the game, into the rooms in Nashville. That was probably the worst thing that I’ve ever seen.

“Not really, you know guys talked amongst each other. But when something did happen and there was some second guessing, and it got to [GM] Ken Holland, [he] came down to the room and had this speech, and supported Mike Babcock. It was a great speech, but it was to tell everybody in the room, ‘you don’t like it, you could be traded, so come up and see me to be traded.’ So that was the way that ended.”

My take

  1. I lack the detailed knowledge to fairly and accurately assess how exactly things broke down between Franzen and Babcock in Detroit. I say this as someone who has covered numerous criminal trials and understand how dicey it is to make judgements if you don’t know all the facts. It’s hard to discern who is in the right and who is in the wrong in matters even when you’ve heard a ton of evidence from all sides. It’s easy to have a knee-jerk and incorrect take on things when you aren’t close to having full information, which is where we all are now.
  2. As for how it all relates to Holland, he was GM of two coaches, Scotty Bowman and Babcock, who had players turn against them in the end, but these were also two coaches who won Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. The NHL is an ultra competitive, big money business. That coaches have sometimes engage in nasty mind games and extreme and harsh criticism of players isn’t shocking. At the same time, this is a unique high performance setting and, frankly, I’m going to be careful before I slam anyone other than to say I always love hearing about the players’ coach, the guy who brings out the best of players without hammering in nasty verbal fashion on them. At other levels of hockey, this kind of players’ coach, who has a heavy emphasis on teaching and encouraging players, should be the norm. At the highest level of competition, I’m not going to pretend to be fully qualified to judge what went on, especially not being completely confident I have all the facts.