In one of two posts for today’s NHL rumor rundown, there’s a disheartening story that starts off the day’s rumors and news. It focuses specifically on allegations that Mike Babcock intentionally singled out one of the Toronto Maple Leafs best players and there’s speculation that this could have been a factor in Babcock’s termination and said player’s delay in re-signing with the team.
Babcock’s Mistreatment of Players
While neither Mitch Marner, Mike Babcock nor the Toronto Maple Leafs have confirmed the story, there’s a disheartening rumor going around (and from multiple sources) that during Babcock’s tenure in Toronto, he had a tendency to mistreat the players. A recent article from Toronto Maple Leafs beat reporter Terry Koshan has gone into some detail, specifically citing one story that involved a rookie and the head coach.
Koshan wrote for the Toronto Sun:
Babcock was alleged to have asked one of the Leafs’ rookies to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic. The rookie did so, not wanting to upset his coach, but was taken aback when Babcock told the players who had been listed at the bottom.source -‘Reinvigorated Leafs eager to keep pushing forward with Keefe at helm’ – Terry Koshan – Toronto Sun – 11/25/2019
Ian Tulloch of The Athletic and Leafs Nation digs deeper into the story, tweeting confirmation of the rumor when he wrote,”I heard about this Babcock story when it happened, but I didn’t want to bring it up until I could confirm it was true. The rookie he did this to was Mitch Marner.”
He goes into more detail on Leafs Nation where he writes:
As the story goes, Mike Babcock was frustrated with Mitch Marner for his perceived laziness in the first half of his rookie season. According to multiple sources, during the Father’s Weekend road trip in January of 2017, Babcock asked Marner to rank his teammates’ effort level that season in order of 1 through 20, ranging from the hardest working to the laziest.
Tulloch adds that Marner put himself at the bottom of the list because he knew he needed to improve but when Babcock showed the list to other players, where names of players like Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak were at the bottom, the team was furious — specifically with Babcock for putting Marner in that position.
The story goes that seeing his coach do this brought Marner to tears.
Former Babcock Players Have Come Forward Too
Marner hasn’t made comments about the story but other players have gone public with their distaste for Babcock since it was announced he’d been let go. Of the most viral, former NHL player Mike Commodore has used social media to blast his ex-coach.
Commodore has been having a field day with the news, making comments and posting photos of Babcock packing and leaving the organization. Some have criticized Commodore for his disrespectful remarks but Former Leafs player Mark Fraser has said, “Anyone who thinks @commie22 needs to lay off Babs just doesn’t understand how much hate players have for him. It’s beyond him scratching @commie22 or saying he was out of shape. #NHL players are a very very small population of athletes and people.”
What he’s referring to is Commodore’s claim that Babcock intentionally ended his NHL career. He tells a story of how he played for Babcock and was given a fat test and Babcock singled him out in front of the rest of his teammates saying he was way overweight. He then essentially benched Commodore until his contract ran out.
Commodore claims he told off Babcock and was never as out of shape as Babcock insinuated and when it came time for him to sign with a team as a free agent and Detroit was interested, Commodore asked both Babcock and GM Ken Holland if they really wanted him there due to their history. Babcock told him yes, they signed him and Babock then proceeded to bench him over and over, eventually ending his career.
Is Marner’s Story Why Babcock Was Fired?
It’s not fair to suggest this is the reason Babcock was terminated from his coaching contract, nor is it fair to claim this is the reason Marner took so long to re-sign with Toronto before this new contract was completed, but how does one not connect the dots and say, in some way, it played a factor?
If the reports are accurate that 90% of the players wanted Babcock gone and most of the team knew of this incident, no one should be surprised there was some hesitation on Marner’s part to sign long-term if the thought was that he’d be playing under Babcock for years to come.
That said, there is an argument that releasing this story now is piling on a coach who has already been let go. Bob McKenzie of TSN, for one, had said he’s not reporting on the story and others should have done so during his tenure, not after.