Mike Babcock hasn't completely given up on a potential return to an NHL bench, but he says the right situation would have to come along first.
"It’s got to be the right fit," Babcock said in a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun. "I don’t know what’s next. But I do know there’s a shortened season here, everybody’s got a coach, the chance of me coaching in the NHL this year is very, very slim."
Babcock has been away from the game for more than a year after being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2019. Since then he's stayed mostly out of the spotlight, although he did volunteer as a coach with the University of Vermont over the summer and interviewed for the Washington Capitals' head coaching job, which ultimately went to Peter Laviolette. Now, with the new NHL season underway, he's set to begin a trial run as a studio analyst with NBC Sports in the U.S.
While his future in the game remains an open question, Babcock is certain that that future will not include another stint with the Canadian national team when NHLers head to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Babcock led Canada to three championship wins on the international stage over the last decade, including gold at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics as well as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
"It’s someone else’s turn," Babcock said of the national team job. "Someone is going to get a chance and it’s going to be the thrill of their lifetime. What a responsibility at the same time, but what an opportunity."
As Babcock transitions back to a more public life again with NBC, questions about his tenure in Toronto are coming back to the surface. Specifically, an incident involving Mitch Marner when the winger was a rookie under Babcock in the 2016-17 season.
After Babcock was fired by the Maple Leafs, Postmedia’s Terry Koshan reported Babcock had asked a Leafs rookie to list his teammates in order of how hard they worked, then revealed the rookie’s opinions to the group. It was later reported that the rookie was Marner.
After that story broke, Babcock admitted to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that the situation “ended up not being a good idea,” adding that he apologized to Marner at the time.
For his part, Marner said that the situation was “unfortunate” but that Babcock did apologize and that their relationship improved over time.
LeBrun asked Babcock to address the Marner situation in their interview published Tuesday. Babcock said at the time he spoke to Friedman, he was unaware of the way the story had been told and that it didn’t play out that way exactly. According to Babcock, the list Marner produced was not made available to the whole roster, just Tyler Bozak, who was a veteran centre on the team at the time.
Babcock says he knew as soon as Bozak saw the list that he had failed Marner and that he offered to apologize to the rookie winger in front of the team, an offer which he says Marner declined.
"...what I should have done in hindsight, I should have stopped everybody and said, ‘This is what I did to Mitch. I screwed him,'" Babcock told LeBrun. "Now, he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. But I could have made a lesser deal of it."
Babcock says he still has a good relationship with Marner and he takes full responsibility for how the incident played out.
"...there’s no question that it was all on me,” Babcock said. “Not on Mitch. It was all on me. I made a mistake. My fault."