Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland told reporters Wednesday he was not aware Mike Babcock mistreated players during their time with the Detroit Red Wings, responding to recent accusations of verbal assault from former players Chris Chelios and Johan Franzen.
"I've been a general manager for 22 years," said Holland — who has worked with Scotty Bowman, Dave Lewis, Babcock, Jeff Blashill and now Dave Tippett in his 22 years as an NHL general manager — via TSN. "At the end of the year, I always do exit interviews. A player not liking the coach, not liking their role, not liking who they’re playing with – I hear that all the time."
“You talk about Johan Franzen, I can't speak for Johan," he added. "And when he came out, he was very clear and said Mike Babcock was a tremendous coach. He doesn’t like him as a person."
On Monday, Franzen detailed his experiences playing under Babcock from 2005-15 with Swedish publication Expressen after Chelios told Barstool Sports podcast "Spittin' Chiclets" that Babcock once verbally assaulted Franzen during a game, causing the forward had a nervous breakdown.
Holland, who was with Babcock in Detroit for 10 years before leaving to take the Edmonton GM job in May, said players' opinions of Babcock varied. He added that while he isn't usually in the locker room when his coaches talk to their teams, he is "aware of everything" as a general manager.
"There's one-on-one meetings and some team meetings. I'm not privy to every word that comes out, but certainly I’m aware of the message," Holland told reporters. "I try to be available to our players through the years... to talk to the players after the season in exit meetings and get to know what's going on. Am I aware that there was some unhappiness? Yeah. But there's always going to be some unhappiness. I don't care what your style is. But some stuff, I'm not aware of."
Chelios said in his "Spittin' Chiclets" interview that Holland was made aware of how Babcock treated players after the incident with Franzen, and that the GM responded by offering to trade disgruntled players away. Holland said Wednesday there is an inaccurate perception of when the two events occured.
"I spoke to [Chelios]," Holland told reporters. "I hold Cheli in the highest regard...I just said to Cheli that the timeline he laid out – the perception was there was a situation between Babcock and Franzen on the bench and the next day I came down and said something to the team – both are true, but they're about five to six years apart. When I did address the team one point in time – I think Cheli retired in '09 – Cheli said he was sitting in the locker room, so it's gotta be '06, '07 - and the Franzen-Babcock was the Nashville series in 2012."