Elliotte Friedman wrote about the Capitals’ coaching search and the eventual hiring of Peter Laviolette in his latest 31 Thoughts column. While Friedman believes Laviolette was the team’s ultimate first choice, he reports that Mike Babcock, who won the Stanley Cup in 2008, got a lot of consideration from the Capitals because his interview went so well.
MacLellan only interviewed Laviolette and Babcock face-to-face due to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
7. The moment the Capitals committed to a coaching change, word filtered that Laviolette was the favourite. During the hiring’s media conference, GM Brian MacLellan said there were two in-person interviews. Those were Laviolette and Mike Babcock. There was a conversation with Bruce Boudreau, but it didn’t go far. There was a zoom connection with Gerard Gallant, but border quarantines affected his candidacy. Because MacLellan was in the U.S. and Gallant in Atlantic Canada, face-to-face meetings were logistically challenging.
Babcock’s interview apparently came during some kind of socially distanced family dinner/cookout, and there was some buzz it went so well it tightened the race. (MacLellan would not comment.)
In the end, I think Laviolette was the choice anyway. However, another coach told me that he believed Washington was a little concerned about the “noise” around Babcock, especially since we don’t know when next year will begin. Without games, the focus is on the past, not the present or future. To be honest, I’m not sure Babcock would be crazy about that reality either. For the time being, he remains a guest coach at NCAA Vermont, helping the Catamounts prepare for their season.
In 2019, Johan Franzen, who played under Babock in Detroit, called his former coach “the worst person I have ever met” in a Swedish language interview.
“Some of the things he (Babcock) said to him (Franzen) on the bench, I don’t know what he said to him behind closed doors one-on-one, but he blatantly verbally assaulted him during the game on the bench,” Chris Chelios, a former teammate, said in a podcast interview. “It got to the point where poor Johan, no one really knowing he was suffering with the concussion thing and the depression thing, he just broke down and had a nervous breakdown, not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville.
“It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Franzen said the mental and emotional abuse made him “terrified” of going to the rink and that Babcock layed into other teammates too. “That incident occurred against Nashville in the playoffs. It was coarse, nasty, and shocking. But that was just one out of a hundred things he did. The tip of the iceberg.”
Babcock also humiliated Mitch Marner and betrayed his trust during his rookie season with Toronto. Babcock asked Marner to confidentially fill out a list of who was the hardest and laziest workers on the team and then shared that list with the entire team. It left Marner in tears. Players were furious that Babcock would do that to a 19-year-old rookie.
The “noise” Friedman is referring to is likely Capitals fans who consistently voiced their displeasure on social media about Babcock’s potential hiring.
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Friedman also reported that Laviolette spoke to Ovechkin on Wednesday for 30 minutes and that the team’s defense just didn’t jive well last year.
One thing I heard Washington wanted to address: Their defence corps was “off” last season. The group just didn’t work well together. That unit flourished under Laviolette in Nashville. The Capitals watched Andre Burakovsy and Chandler Stephenson blossom elsewhere, so trying a new approach was the preference.
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