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On Mike Babcock and Darryl Sutter’s coaching styles and why the ‘old boys club’ isn’t good enough anymore

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
6 months ago
It didn’t take long for the hockey world to out former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Mike Babcock for some… unusual practices. Just recently, he resigned from his position due to a story that was exposed on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast by co-host and TNT television personality Paul Bissonette, where he talked about the methods that Babcock used to try and get to know his players and how they were problematic. For those that may be unfamiliar, it was alleged that he would ask to see the photos on players’ phones, young and old, to try and get to know them more, which, for many, appeared as a violation of privacy.
Even if the intentions were “good,” this is the same man who has used interesting tactics in NHL locker rooms before and has been outed for abusing players like Johan Franzen and embarrassing players like Mitch Marner.
He wasn’t the only coach out of a job due to unconventional approaches to the locker room and connecting with his players. Former Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter also found himself in the coaching carousel once again. Although it wasn’t as swift of a “dismissal” as Babcock’s was (even though Babcock technically resigned due to it being too much of a distraction and Sutter also didn’t have the NHL investigating him for anything, which is a pretty big difference), there were plenty of stories that came out about the Flames and issues within the locker room. It wasn’t a surprise that they struggled last season with everything going on behind closed doors. There wasn’t a good connection, from shouting matches to forgetting rookie numbers in the press conference after their debut to podcast appearances by players who deliberately said that the team needed a coaching change.
All of this brings me to the crux of this article: it feels as if there’s a shift going on in the NHL.
Of course, these coaches are known for their unconventional methods and sometimes harmful to the well-being of their players. Still, it brings about the question, is it time that the “old boys club” of the NHL starts to disband and we see a new wave of coaches being brought in that can connect with the players in a currently changing league? I think the answer is yes.
I alluded to it earlier on, but the “coaching carousel” is a real thing. Not only do we see it with a Sutter or a Babcock, but a coach like Gerard Gallant, who had his fair share of struggles with the New York Rangers before being let go, is a part of that, too. These coaches have all done their time and had relative success across the NHL landscape, but the game and its players are changing. Some still refuse to adapt their systems despite the NHL being more speed and skill-oriented, while others refuse to change their player-to-coach relationship methods.
It’s a frustrating thing to watch, particularly because plenty of coaches have had plenty of success at other levels and could be great fits for NHL teams. Still, due to this everlasting circulation of the same coaches, they don’t get their chance.
The Sutter and Babcock-esque coaches seem to be slowly fading away, which is good for the NHL. It’s not the same league as it was 20 or 30 years ago. It’s not even the same league it was 10 years ago. The NHL is changing, and the people behind the benches of teams also need to change instead of the same faces behind different colour uniforms and logos.

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