Blue Jackets seeing early downside of hiring human lightning rod Mike Babcock

It's unclear exactly what's going on behind closed doors in Columbus, but it's very clear that Babcock's presence alone is going to invite plenty of scrutiny.

It's difficult to know precisely what to believe about allegations that Mike Babcock demanded to see photos on players' phones shortly after taking over as the Columbus Blue Jackets head coach.

Paul Bissonnette — who first broke the accusations on the Spittin' Chiclets podcast — is sticking to his story that the coach was breaching players' privacy by "putting them on the spot" and "grilling them" on the contents of their phones. He also added a screenshot of a text from a player in a tweet on Tuesday to support his claims.

Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets released a statement from both Babcock and captain Boone Jenner suggesting the situation was being misrepresented. Johnny Gaudreau also spoke out to support that interpretation of events. For now the NHL sees the whole thing as a non-issue.

It's not totally out of the realm of possibility that there is a middle ground where Babcock asked to see players' family photos in a way that some found invasive, but others saw as innocuous. He may not have gotten any pushback and assumed no one was taking issue with his approach while a few players did.

Elliotte Friedman's column at suggests the coach has had "family presentations" throughout his coaching career and pointed out if they were truly a hated practice we wouldn't just be hearing about this now.

You can choose which interpretation of events seems most realistic to you based on which sources you trust the most, but one thing's clear: the Blue Jackets — a small-market team coming off a 59-point season — are already at the center of a major controversy a month before they open their season.

That's what hiring Babcock will do for you.

Mike Babcock looks like he'll be under the microscope all season. (Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mike Babcock looks like he'll be under the microscope all season. (Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Babcock's past sins are well-documented. A coach who has been called the worst person one of his players has ever met and forced Mitch Marner into calling out his teammates as a rookie isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt.

His moves will be extremely closely scrutinized, criticizing him will almost always be more fashionable than supporting him, and he's burned enough bridges that there will be people motivated to cast his actions in the worst possible light. That's the bed he's made, and he has to lie in it.

The Blue Jackets had a choice, though. They never had to get into the Babcock business. There were plenty of coaching candidates who might've helped the team improve. It's possible that Babcock was literally the best X's and O's coach available, but it's impossible to know by what margin.

On the other hand, it is clear that Columbus could've chosen a candidate who was less of a risk to create a poor work environment and find himself in conflict with his players. Even if that's not what's happening now, past behaviour tends to predict future behaviour — and Babcock is clearly combustible.

The risk-reward proposition with the veteran skipper would be easier to justify if the Blue Jackets were on the precipice of greatness and they genuinely believed he was the guy to push them over the edge. It would still be a hire that'd invite valid skepticism, but the reasoning would be more sound.

Even if Columbus is acting like a contender with win-now moves, that's just not a fair way to characterize where they're at. So, the best Babcock is likely going to be able to do in the near future is get them from bottom-feeder to the mushy middle of the NHL.

Maybe he's the best man for the job. Maybe he's about to begin a legendary tenure in Columbus. It seems more likely, however, that the Blue Jackets have taken a significant risk and invited all kinds of scrutiny with minimal short-term upside.