Mike Babcock (L) and Paul Bissonnette. Mike Babcock (L) and Paul Bissonnette. (Babcock photo from June 1, 2023 from Kyle Robertson/USA Today Sports, Bissonnette screengrab from March 2022 from NHL Timestamp Guy on YouTube.)

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ July hire of Mike Babcock as their new head coach was controversial from the start. Babcock last coached in the NHL in 2019 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was fired from that role amidst allegations of a toxic work environment and allegations of mental abuse towards players (as well as a six-game losing streak). So there was a lot of backlash to his hire in the first place. And concerns about the work environment under Babcock again surfaced Tuesday thanks to Barstool Sports/NHL on TNT analyst Paul Bissonnette.

On his Spittin’ Chiclets Barstool podcast with Ryan Whitney, Bissonnette relayed a concerning story. He discussed Babcock seemingly going through the photos on players’ phones, including the phone of captain Boone Jenner, and AirPlaying those photos on an office TV.  Here’s how he presented that on the podcast (language warning):

The Blue Jackets responded to those podcast allegations with a “looking into,” and then with official statements from Babcock and Jenner disputing this. Bissonnette pushed back on all their pushback, though, and cited other players’ texts. (Language warnings for tweets below.)

Babcock’s 2019 firing from the Maple Leafs came around allegations of him making “verbal attacks” on players, both there and with his previous stint with the Detroit Red Wings. That also saw discussion of particular incidents such as him asking Leafs’ rookie Mitch Marner to rank teammates by effort, then showing those rankings to other players. That led to a wider NHL statement on cracking down on coaches’ treatment of players.

Babcock tried to defend himself years later after joining NBC as a studio analyst in January 2021, a move that took a lot of media criticism at the time. He didn’t last long there, instead taking a U SPORTS head coaching job with the Saskatchewan Huskies that February. He resigned from that role in the summer of 2022, and said he was retiring from coaching. But he then took the Blue Jackets’ job this summer.

As for Bissonnette, these are certainly remarkably strong (and explicit) comments from him, and not what you normally see from a national television analyst. But he’s been doing Spittin’ Chiclets with Barstool since 2016, and has often been more provocative there than he’s been on TV (and he’s definitely provocative on TV at times as well). It remains to be seen if TNT parent Warner Bros. Discovery Sports has any issues with one of their analysts graphically describing how ‘we’re going to bend you over’ towards a NHL coach and organization. But hey, of their 62 regular-season games this year, none involve the Blue Jackets, so they at least avoid that potential awkwardness.

[Yahoo Sports; Babcock photo from June 1, 2023 from Kyle Robertson/USA Today Sports, Bissonnette screengrab from March 2022 from NHL Timestamp Guy on YouTube.]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.