Leafs’ Shanahan doesn’t join Babcock dissenters, but applauds speaking out

Brendan Shanahan addresses the media following the Board of Governors meeting and touches on what he took from the Mike Babcock and Mitch Marner situation.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Brendan Shanahan has seen every side of Mike Babcock.

He’s hired him, fired him and played for him.

So it says something that three weeks after removing Babcock as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and after hearing a couple of former teammates speak out about how they were treated by him, Shanahan didn’t add his voice to the dissenters.

"Much was made of the incident with Mike a few years ago with Mitch Marner, for instance, and I know our general manager at the time had called me and let me know about it right away and had addressed it right away with Mike," the Leafs president said Tuesday from the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting.

"Mike apologized to Mitch and there was communication with our general manager at the time and the agent and the family. It wasn’t something that was appropriate or acceptable to us.

"Since then, my general manager — whether it was Lou (Lamoriello) or Kyle (Dubas) — had never come to us with a situation like that."

Shanahan also didn’t witness anything he thought crossed the line during the 2005-06 season in Detroit when he played for Babcock’s Red Wings, which is why he lured him to the Leafs in the spring of 2015 on a record-setting eight-year, $50-million contract.

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That was years before an alleged incident between Babcock and Johan Franzen in Nashville — something both Franzen and Chris Chelios have spoken about publicly since the Leafs fired Babcock on Nov. 20. Franzen told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that Babcock frequently played mind games with him and that the emotional scars still linger to this day.

However, he never shared any of those stories with the man who until very recently employed Babcock.

"I sat with Johan a couple years ago at a game in Detroit and we just talked about things in general and it never came up," said Shanahan.

"But I don’t dispute for a second that Johan is telling an experience that did in fact happen. He and I and many others come from a generation, obviously, where we didn’t speak about that stuff immediately. And now I think that players are choosing to speak up more often and I applaud him for having the courage to do that. …

"The fact that people are taking the time now to get things off their chests, I think is very important."

When the Leafs chose to replace Babcock with Sheldon Keefe they did so amid a six-game losing streak. Management felt he had lost the dressing room and taken the group as far as he was going to.

The move was basically made for competitive reasons, not because of Babcock’s behaviour — an important distinction from the circumstances that saw Bill Peters resign from the Calgary Flames on Nov. 29 and the Dallas Stars fire Jim Montgomery on Tuesday morning.

"I think it’s a little dangerous when you just start sort of linking everyone together," said Shanahan.

"I think you have to look at each specific case on its own. I think it’s a little bit unfair to just sort of group everybody in all in one."

The incident where Babcock asked Marner to identify the teammates who were the least-hardest working and then shared it with those players happened during the 2016-17 season.

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He owned that mistake, apologized in the moment and saw the player and team reach new heights in the two years that followed. Marner recently told reporters he "had a pretty good relationship" with Babcock and that he reached out to him after he was fired.

"Yeah, I texted him right after and I just said ‘Thanks for everything you did here,"’ said Marner. "He turned around this team and this franchise. I just said ‘Good luck wherever it takes you next."’

Babcock is a hard-driving coach, who will probably have to adapt to the changing times before he steps behind the bench again. But nothing Shanahan said Tuesday left the impression that he wouldn’t or shouldn’t get that chance at some point down the road.

These NHL meetings saw the introduction of a four-point plan to address abuse within the league’s ranks and Shanahan hailed it as a positive step for the industry.

"I think that obviously we have all come from a generation where there are certain things that have occurred, and occurred to us, and occurred to us as players that you just sort of accepted," he said.

"I think that we all have to do a better job of creating the kind of work environment — on the ice, off the ice — that is more with the times."


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