Mike Babcock’s comeback got off to a rough start as NBC tries to interfere with him


Mike Babcock during outdoor practice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on February 7, 2019.

The canadian press

The day NBC announced the on-air talent that will lead its NHL shows into the future, it took a moment to pay homage to the past. In a call with reporters Monday afternoon, NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood paid tribute to Mike (Doc) Emrick, the legendary hockey broadcaster who called his last game last October after 47 years, and noted that Emrick would be part of the network. Triple-header Wednesday opening night. Analyst AJ Mleczko added that he would miss his former colleague, explaining that “he’s a better human being than he’s a broadcaster, and of course we all know how incredible he is. “

Things took a tough turn from there.

Hours earlier, news broke that NBC had parted ways permanently with Mike Milbury, the pungent analyst and former NHL head coach and general manager who had flown too close to the sun with his hot catches too many.

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Last August, during a lull in an Islanders-Capitals game, Brian Boucher spoke about the benefits of the NHL’s return-to-play bubble – “if you like to play and like to be with your teammates for long periods of time, it’s a perfect place ”- when Milbury joked that there was“ not even a woman here to disturb your concentration ”. Well. The next day, the NHL expressed its displeasure, Milbury issued an apology and NBC informed him that his services in the Toronto bubble were no longer needed.

The channel had previously sacked Jeremy Roenick in February, after joking on a podcast – albeit not on NBC – about sex threesomes he might consider having with co-workers, naming two men and a woman as candidates.

With all of that baggage, NBC obviously decided during the offseason that Milbury was too risky to continue broadcasting.

And so, perhaps sensing that the loss of two Mikes was too much, NBC came out and hired Mike Babcock to shore up its bench of studio analysts. Babcock, of course, was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 23 games of the 2019-20 season and then found himself tarred and feathered when former players suddenly started breaking hockey’s code of omerta, denouncing the psychological abuse they had suffered at his hands. Mitch Marner and Chris Chelios shared stories about Babcock’s toxic head games; Johan Franzen said his former Red Wings boss, while being an “extremely precise and prepared” coach, was also “a terrible person, the worst person I have ever met”.

(Translation: He’s not Doc Emrick.)

Nonetheless, Flood told reporters that after Babcock “contacted us through representation in the playoffs last year,” NBC almost brought him on board at that point. “But because of the COVID protocols… we decided to wait this year.”

Flood revealed that he met Babcock in 2006 through analyst Pierre McGuire, who worked for TSN at the time. “Pierre and I would go to Mike’s office before the many Detroit games that we were producing, and we would sit in his little office and talk about hockey and life. And he was a fascinating and insightful man, ”said Flood. “And I thank Pierre for creating a relationship and bringing me into this office all those years ago. And these are the moments that reveal who you want to have on your team. And Mike was a fascinating guy to hang out with, and I think he’ll be a great addition.

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It was impressive rhetoric from Flood, simultaneously throwing the elephant back into the room without even specifically acknowledging its existence. And who should complain about their decision? If he wants to hire someone he believes is an asset to his team, that’s his right. Babcock’s alleged sin, after all, was mental abuse, and even though his ex-boss, Brendan Shanahan, decreed his tactics were neither “appropriate nor acceptable,” they stumbled upon a specter of ugly behavior by the people. coaches and coaches who had often been seen as necessary to get the most out of athletes.

That’s really all Flood had to say when reporters hit him with a few follow-ups. Instead, an appeal organized by NBC to celebrate a fresh start quickly took on a noxious odor.

“After Mike Babcock was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, some of the former players were charged with emotional abuse,” ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski told Flood. “His reputation took a hit. He hasn’t really addressed these issues publicly since then. Is this something you discussed before hiring him, and is it maybe something you could get him to discuss live? “

Flood responded, “We’ve had a whole process of conversations, as we do with anyone we bring, on the team. The line fell silent. Then the moderator moved on to the next question.

Minutes later, the Athletic’s Sean Shapiro referred to Shanahan’s comments about Babcock and asked if NBC had any concerns about the allegations. “We looked at everything,” Flood said categorically. Another eight seconds of silence – even the moderator seemed surprised.

No one is suggesting that Babcock be canceled. (There’s no real threat of that, anyway: last fall, before signing with NBC, he interviewed for the Washington Capitals head coach job.) But the reputation rehabilitation is supposed to start by recognizing what you have done; then you make amends, if those you wronged are interested. But until you clean the air, your ugly past is going to weigh on everything you do, like the cloud of dust and bugs that follows poor Pig-Pen into the Peanuts cartoon.

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NBC may have thought he was playing performer for their new recruit on Monday. But no one wants to let go of the gloves with the network or with Babcock. We just need him to finally, completely – and publicly – address the issue of his past behavior, so we can all continue to listen to what he has to say about hockey.


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