Oilers and Mike Babcock a Terrible Fit If Tippett Gets Fired

There’s a ridiculous rumor floating around the Edmonton Oilers that the team might look at former NHL coach Mike Babcock as a solution to any potential coaching issues should the Oilers continue to struggle. It’s not entirely clear where the rumor started, but it’s an odd one, and frankly, I don’t buy it.

2-6 in their last eight games, the Oilers have won two in a row, but not long ago the sky was falling as the Oilers were continually losing and diminishing any positive gains they’d made with an outstanding start to the 2020-21 NHL season. As they can often be when things go south in a passionate hockey market, Oiler fans were in panic mode as the team went from 16-5 to 16-11 in a matter of a couple of weeks.

The Mike Babcock Rumor

On December 15th, after the sixth-straight loss, the highly-respected blog, Lowetide, which is maintained by The Athletic’s Allan Mitchell wrote the following:

We’re at a point where logic and reason leave the room and chaos marries the wildest fantasies of ownership. Can you list any Oilers from the golden era who are currently coaches? Former coaches? Have expressed an interest in coaching? I know you’re thinking Jay Woodcroft and a large analytics department, but Mike Babcock might be Holland’s answer. We wait.

That somehow turned into rumors the Oilers were reaching out to Babcock about his interest in a potential coaching gig. According to an unreliable source (I won’t even cite it because there’s no good reason to believe it to be accurate) they wrote, “Can confirm that Holland has been in contact with Mike Babcock. Not too sure in what capacity or about what exactly. But one has to assume that it’s about a possible coaching change. There’s been no word on Woodcroft.”

Again, I don’t buy it for a second.

Tippett’s Job Isn’t In Jeopardy

There are a few reasons not to buy into the Babcock speculation. The first is that there’s no reason to assume head coach Dave Tippett is at risk of losing his job. While GM Ken Holland isn’t going to love a six-game losing streak, that kind of run isn’t incredibly abnormal in today’s NHL. It happens. It’s certainly not enough to make a GM fire a coach he likes and has shown confidence in since he personally hired the man.

NHL Seattle Dave Tippett
NHL Seattle Senior Advisor Dave Tippett (Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The only way Tippett’s job becomes a talking point is if the Oilers continue to win under Glen Gulutzan and Jim Playfair while Tippett is out on COVID protocol. That would have to be followed by a Tippett return that sees the Oilers nosedive again. That scenario might suggest the Oilers perform better under a different voice. Even then, this is such a weird time for the NHL, it’s illogical to suggest this small sample size would give Holland the confidence to run with Gulutzan over Tippett unless it was blatantly obvious towards the end of January.

Tippett’s leash is a lot longer than just a six-game losing streak.

Babcock’s History With Holland Isn’t Enough

The link between the Oilers and Babcock is obvious because of the former coach’s history with the current Oilers’ GM. The two spent many years together in Detroit and led a very successful Red Wings team to multiple playoff wins and eventually a Stanley Cup. Holland was general manager of the Red Wings from 1997 through April of 2019. He hired Babcock in 2005 and worked with him for a decade, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008.

Ken Holland, Henrik Zetterberg and coach Mike Babcock.
Ken Holland, Henrik Zetterberg and coach Mike Babcock. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

That was then. This is now.

Since that time, Babcock has been front-page news as a coach who sometimes mistreated his players. He worked his way out of the NHL and his reputation took a massive hit as he left, not having returned since. He is currently serving as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan men’s ice hockey program.

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Holland did say that he was not aware of Babcock mistreating players but did know that not every player adores their coach and heard during exit interviews that Babcock wasn’t universally loved. To Holland, that wasn’t a big deal and not enough to change his perception of their time together. At the same time, Holland’s comments don’t translate into a job offer.

Babcock may eventually make his way back to the NHL. It just shouldn’t be with Edmonton.

Oilers Don’t Need the Drama

With all that has gone in the NHL over the past couple of seasons — Chicago Blackhawks management drama and coaches being relieved over racially insensitive comments or hiding abuse allegations — the Oilers shouldn’t want to go anywhere near a coach that has a bit of a reputation.

This is not to suggest Babcock did anything near the level of hiding criminal activity or being prejudiced against certain players, but his rumored mistreatment of Mitch Marner while coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his alleged inappropriate behavior towards Johan Franzen during their time together with the Detroit Red Wings isn’t something the Oilers should associate themselves with. The Oilers have just begun to build a core that has a genuine camaraderie. Potentially disrupting that would be detrimental to the gains being made.

Whether that’s ultimately fair to Babcock or not, it’s the reality of his situation. Teams will and should be leary of hiring him.

Babock’s Issues in Toronto Shouldn’t Be Repeated in Edmonton

A hallmark of Babcock’s run as Maple Leafs’ head coach was that his team offered underwhelming offense that couldn’t overcome the lackluster defense. That’s not exactly the type of resume that should stand out as a positive on an Oilers team that has been built in somewhat the same fashion as the Leafs. The Oilers are a club that often tries to outscore their opponents. The knock on Tippett might be that he’s “too defensive” or that he doesn’t get the most out of his entire lineup. Why go the same direction if a coaching change is made?

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl
Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl take part in training camp. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

There is also the fact that Babcock was said to have issues with his top players. If there’s one thing the Oilers have, it’s incredible talent at the top end. Like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner — both who reportedly had rumored issues — the last thing the Oilers need is a coach that might stir things up with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

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Again, this is not to say Babcock shouldn’t get another crack at an NHL job. It’s not to suggest that, one day, he won’t be welcomed back after serving his time outside the league. As far as the Oilers go, it’s just not anything close to the right fit.