The days since the Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock have been filled with allegations of bullying and abuse against him and now-former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters. On Tuesday, a Hockey Hall of Famer levied new accusations against Babcock that stem from their time together with the Detroit Red Wings.
Chris Chelios — who played 26 seasons in the NHL — alleged on Barstool Sports’ Spittin Chiclets podcast on Monday that Mike Babcock verbally assaulted former Red Wings forward Johan Franzen to the point that Franzen had a nervous breakdown.
“Yeah, that would be an easy one. It would be Johan Franzen,” Chelios responded when podcast co-host Bissonette asked him if Babcock’s coaching style ever put players in a poor mental state.
“What [Babcock] did to him at the end, he was hurt at the time, it was the playoffs I think we lost to [the Nashville Predators], we got upset with Nashville. Some of the things [Babcock said to 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.”
Franzen, 39, remains under contract with Detroit through 2019-20 but has not played in the NHL since October 2015 due to lingering problems from post-concussion syndrome. He revealed in a December 2018 interview that he fights a daily battle with depression, anxiety and panic attacks and said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after stepping away from hockey.
“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,” Chelios added. “Not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville. That was probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
Below is an excerpt of Chelios’ interview with Spittin Chiclets released on Dec. 2.
Chelios and Franzen played together on the Red Wings from 2005-09, but he remained within the Detroit organization as a front office executive and assistant coach for the remainder of Franzen’s NHL career. The Red Wings moved from the Western Conference to the East in division realignment ahead of the 2013-14 season, suggesting this particular incident between Babcock and Franzen happened during one of two Nashville-Detroit playoff series in either 2008 or 2012.
According to Chelios, no veterans on the team — which included Red Wings legends Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg — confronted Babcock about this behavior and that when general manager Ken Holland was alerted of the incident, he stood behind his head coach.
“Guys talked, obviously, amongst each other,” Chelios said on the podcast. “But when something did happen and there was some second-guessing and it got to Kenny Holland, Kenny Holland came down to the room and had this speech and supported Mike Babcock. It was a great speech, but [it was to tell everybody] in the room that if you don’t like it, you could be traded. ‘Come up and see me, you can be traded.’ So that was kind of the way that ended.”
The podcasters — Barstool Sports blogger Rear Admiral and former NHLers Ryan Whitney and Paul Bissonnette — said that Chelios reached out to them in the wake of Babcock’s firing.