Blue Jackets Players React To Head-Coaching Change: "We're Looking Ahead"

By Coby Maeir on September 18, 2023 at 9:43 pm
Boone Jenner addresses the media at the Columbus Blue Jackets' annual media luncheon.

Boone Jenner, Johnny Gaudreau, Zach Werenski, and Patrik Laine spoke to the media Monday and gave their thoughts on a week that saw Mike Babcock resign just 78 days after being introduced as head coach and Pascal Vincent named his replacement. 

This comes after a joint investigation by the NHL and NHLPA into photo-sharing allegations made by Spittin' Chiclets host Paul Bissonnette on Sept. 12. 

Jenner, who said in a Sept. 12 statement that he thought his interaction with Babcock was "a great first meeting and good way for us to start to build a relationship," reflected on the last week.

"It's been a crazy week, to say the least for us," Jenner said. "But we're ready to move on, starting right now, today, with [Vincent] as our coach so as a group, we're just looking forward to camp coming up and [blocking] out this noise. There's been a lot of noise in the last little bit for us, where we just want to take away from that shift our focus, and obviously with [Vincent] as our coach now, we're looking to do that right away."

Jenner didn't comment on what he reviewed with the NHLPA, but reiterated the desire of the group to move on. 

"I think we're looking just to move forward and no matter how it comes about," Jenner said. "We want to take care of each other in that room and do what's right for the guys in that room."

He also said this past week has brought the room together. 

"[I'm] pretty proud of the group for that, to be honest," Jenner said. "And it's a different situation. No one's ever been in the spot and, you know, the PA came in and we had lots of talks as a group and sometimes, like you said, that can bring us closer together."

"We have a lot of work to be done," Jenner said later. "Starting today [and] starting Wednesday when camp opens of [working towards] the team we want to be and how we're gonna play this year and we still got a bitter taste from last year. So as a group, that's where our focus is. And as far as this whole situation, we want to get past it and I think we're stronger for it."

Jenner isn't concerned about the quick coaching change and is excited to begin training camp. 

"Yeah, I'm really excited. Pazzy's a super smart hockey coach. He's been around for a long time.– Zach Werenski on Pascal Vincent.

Gaudreau, who told 32 Thoughts: The Podcast on Wednesday that his meeting with Babcock wasn't uncomfortable, said Monday that the team "learned a lot of new things."

"I got hit with the news pretty quickly," Gaudreau said. "And then I was doing media right away. So once we got back from Vegas, got to meet with the team and everything, a lot more things came to light."

Gaudreau said he feels for the players who were made uncomfortable and will try to help them while adding that he thinks this has strengthened the team. 

"We had a great few days meeting together as teammates," Gaudreau said. "Young guys, old guys, everyone speaking in the room and when you go through a situation like this, it's hard, but you can come together as a team a lot quicker than you think."

He also had high praise for Vincent and said he "loved working with him" last season.

"Just just working with him, you know how passionate he is about the game," Gaudreau said. "Obviously, he was the forward coach and the power play coach (last season), so I got to see him a lot last year. And if you remember, we didn't start out the season great on the power play, and every single day, we were working at it in video and getting better. And as the season went on, you can just see the progress we made and I think that's exactly what he's gonna do as the head coach."

"I haven't been this excited in a long time. So I'm obviously super happy for him. Guys respect him and appreciate him and I'm sure he'll do a great job."– Patrik Laine on the appointment of Pascal Vincent.

Werenski, who told 97.1 FM's Rothman & Ice that he had a great interaction with Babcock, described the week as a "180."

"Obviously we spoke on our experiences with it," Werenski said. "And then after having the PA come talk to us and kind of gather some more information, obviously it flipped and they did a great job of kind of bringing everything to light to us and we talked as a group and here we are."

Werenski said NHLPA Executive Director and NHLPA Assistant Executive Director Ron Hainsey had the players' backs, adding, "it was a smooth process and they did their job. So it was really good."

He also spoke about the timing of his interaction with Babcock. 

"I feel like for me, [Jenner], some guys, our interactions were in early July," Werenski said. "So summer goes on. You don't really talk about it and come to camp with other things on your mind. And no one really talked about it in the room, and then stuff kind of started to come out, and the PA got involved. And then more things came to light and from there, they just kind of took over and did their job and [I was] definitely surprised."

Like Jenner and Gaudreau, Werenski had high praise for Vincent. 

"Yeah, I'm really excited," Werenski said. "Pazzy's a super smart hockey coach. He's been around for a long time. I think his resume kind of speaks for itself. Coach of the Year in the American League, I want to say the Quebec League. You know, he [was] an assistant coach in the NHL for a while, and he's got a lot of trust from the guys in that room and a lot of respect. So we're excited to get to work with [Vincent] and just get this thing rolling here on Thursday."

Laine declined to comment on the Babcock situation but is excited about Vincent's appointment.

"I haven't been this excited in a long time," Laine said. "So I'm obviously super happy for him. Guys, respect him and appreciate him and I'm sure he'll do a great job."

Laine, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has had a special guest at his house, the 2023 No. 3 overall pick, Adam Fantilli.

"He's been awesome," Laine said. "He's obviously Canadian, so they're always nice. So [I] just love those people. But he's been awesome. As soon as we signed him, and looking back, I try to try to help them on this as much as I can, you know, second overall myself, him being third, coming with a lot of expectations as an 18-year-old. It's not easy to play in this league, even as an 18-year-old, and on top of that people are expecting you to do a lot of great things. So it's not easy."

"So I just figured with my girlfriend that we'll give him the chance and offer him to stay with us," Laine continued. "And kind of get more comfortable with the team and the city and how everything works here. And we're super happy to have him over and he was such a good guy. And [I'm] just excited to get to know [him] more when the season goes on."

Laine, Werenski, Gaudreau, Jenner, and Vincent will look to lead the Blue Jackets back to relevance after an abysmal 2022-23 season.

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