Front Office Admits Mistakes, Vincent Knows Talk Is Cheap, Assessing Things From Here

By Will Chase on September 22, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson at the Columbus Blue Jackets 2023 Media Luncheon.

A step towards normalcy.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the middle of training camp with their new head coach, Pascal Vincent, as everyone looks to get back to a sense of normalcy at Blue Jackets headquarters in the wake of the Mike Babcock fiasco.

The reality of the matter is president John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen had to nail the next hire after Brad Larsen, and whether or not they were duped into thinking Babcock was a changed person, they felt the risk-reward was worth it.

Those who questioned that decision might really be wondering about the decision-making process by the front office going forward.

More on that in a bit.

As the last few days have played out, the critical takeaway is that it feels like a crisis averted.

As embarrassing a light the Blue Jackets franchise found themselves in over the last week, better to rectify the issue and cut bait with Babcock now than to go into the season with a ticking time bomb.

The fact that it didn't even take until training camp for Babcock to ruffle feathers provides a strong indication of the potential in-season mess that was in store.

Perhaps it’s a lesson learned that will only intensify vetting and what goes into hiring protocols.

The fan base has waited for a sustained winner in Central Ohio since the franchise's inception. Here we are in 2023 and the team has advanced past the first round of the playoffs twice, with the latter occurring in the playoff bubble in 2020.

Vincent isn't wrong at all when he talks about the process and players needing to compete. He acknowledged during Monday's introductory press conference announcing him as the new head coach that words are cheap but he wants the fans to see the team in action.

But what we realized is, if this team works hard and competes, they will support us, Vincent said. And that's what we need to do. We need to compete. There's no other way to win hockey games. If you don't have that, you don't have anything. So we're going to compete and they're going to see it. I mean, words are cheap. I get it. But when they see us out there, they'll see it. We're going to compete, we're going to work hard, we're going to be structured, and they'll see that the team is improving. The goal is to win as many hockey games as possible, to make the playoffs, and from there who knows what's gonna happen. So that's what we're gonna try to do. There's nothing I can say today that can convince anyone. I want them to come here and watch us. That's how we're going to convince them.

In what ended up as an initial miss by the front office and at the end of the day, a self-inflicted disaster by hiring Babcock, Davidson, and Kekalainen, had little to say other than to admit their mistake. On the one hand, they can't run from transparency and honesty.

I am very disappointed, Davidson said. We went through a process earlier this summer prior to hiring Mike Babcock as our head coach, but we got it wrong. And that's on us. I can promise you, we will learn from this moving forward. I also understand the criticism that we are getting, it is deserved. 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. My excitement about our team and what we can accomplish this season has not changed. And we're looking forward to going north. We understand the expectations of ownership, and we will continue to be evaluated every day as part of the job. We understand that. But our focus right now is on our players and our coaches and getting ready for the season.

Whether the fan base or more importantly, ownership can believe them at their word and trust their decision-making going forward, that remains to be seen.

Winning can cure all. If that doesn't happen this season, or if there are significant struggles along the way again, the front office, who is for all intents and purposes on notice, might not be around to see this process through.

While Babcock's motivations might not have been considered ill-intentioned at the time, there have been additional accounts of stories and interactions — Chris Chelios and Jakub Kindl offered their accounts of Babcock in Bob Duff's DetroitHockeyNow piece — come out over the last several days and everything together put that much more scrutiny on the hire.

I do not believe there were any ill intentions on Mike's part in the way he conducted interviews with our players to get to know them, Kekalainen continued. However, whether there was intent or not, some of our players weren't comfortable with his methods, and I was concerned. As we gathered information and had numerous discussions, both internally and externally, it became very clear that the distractions caused by this were too great, and were having a negative impact on our players.

Dan Dukart talked about the challenges that await Vincent, a first-time NHL head coach, who has had head coaching roles in the past for the AHL's Manitoba Moose and filled in behind the bench for the Blue Jackets on a few occasions.

The waters for which the Blue Jackets and Vincent ultimately navigated to get to this point today weren't ideal but nevertheless, it's the opportunity Vincent has waited for.

At the very least, he has a familiarity with the players and the organization so it might feel natural to be able to run things from the top.

Even so, Vincent is now coming in as a first-time NHL head coach and looks to hit the ground running just days after everything became official.

Those who were hoping for a head coach with a winning pedigree at the NHL level following Larsen's tenure might have been hesitant to go with another internal hire without having proven it yet in the NHL.

But after the Babcock misstep, it’s the only move to make.

Perhaps it will end up as a win-win for all.

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