SAN JOSE – When he first started with the Toronto Maple Leafs six years ago, Patrick Marleau said then-coach Mike Babcock asked him and other members of the team to share some of the photos they had on their phones to help him get to know everyone on a more personal level.
“It’s just a way for everybody to get to know each other and their families and where they come from and their backgrounds,” Marleau told Bay Area News Group on Wednesday. “I think it just brings the team closer together.”
Babcock, in his first season as the Columbus Blue Jackets coach and already a polarizing figure within hockey circles, found himself in an unexpected firestorm this week for a similar photo-sharing practice that some reportedly felt was an invasion of privacy.
On the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast this week, co-host and former NHLer Paul Bissonnette said an unidentified player told him that Babcock, 60, had asked Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner to show him the photos he has on his phone.
Bissonnette said the unidentified individual said Babcock told Jenner, “Let me see the photos in your phone. I want to know the type of person you are.”
In a statement released by the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, Babcock said Bissonnette’s comments were “a gross misrepresentation of those meetings and extremely offensive.”
In that same statement, Jenner, 30, said he and Babcock sat down earlier in the summer to get to know each other, and the Stanley Cup-winning coach asked the veteran forward if he had pictures of his family, which Jenner said he was eager to share. Babcock, officially hired by the Blue Jackets on July 1 after a nearly four-year absence from the NHL, also showed Jenner pictures of his own family.
“To have this blown out of proportion is truly disappointing,” Jenner’s statement read.
Bissonnette didn’t back down in a follow-up social media post, writing on X, the platform formally known as Twitter, “Enough with putting guys on the spot in the coaches room asking them to link their phones up to airplay mode and grilling them. I’ve had tons of players confirm it.”
The NHL Players’ Association, as of Wednesday, was actively reviewing the allegations about Babcock and players’ personal devices and photos. The NHL was also gathering information on the matter, although Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told outlets that the league and PA have both looked into the situation and found nothing wrong.
Marleau, who turns 44 on Friday, said after he signed with Toronto in 2017, he gave a few photos to someone with the organization, and then in a presentation, told the story behind those photos to everyone on the team.
“So I think, what I’m assuming, not knowing more than what everybody else does, that that’s exactly what (Babcock) was doing there again,” Marleau said.
In this Feb. 28, 2010, file photo, Canada coach Mike Babcock speaks with players Eric Staal, Jarome Iginla, center, and Sidney Crosby (87) during the men’s gold medal ice hockey game at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Canada, with Patrick Marleau, won the gold on home ice in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014.
Marleau said younger Leafs players such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner at the time also didn’t have an issue with Babcock’s request, which was also a practice he employed while coaching the Detroit Red Wings prior to his tenure in Toronto, which began in 2015.
“It was a great way to get to know your teammates,” Marleau said.
Babcock, who has a .608 points percentage in 1,301 games coached over an 18-year career in the NHL, has at times been a lightning rod for criticism for the way he’s treated certain players.
Babcock, with the Red Wings, scratched forward Mike Modano late in the 2010-2011 season, preventing the future Hall of Famer from reaching the 1,500-game milestone in what he knew was his final year in the NHL.
In Nov. 2019, it was revealed that Babcock asked a rookie, later revealed to be Marner, to rank his teammates from hardest working to least hard-working. Babcock, in turn, told the players who were ranked at the bottom of the list. Babcock later apologized to Marner.
Marleau and Babcock got to know each other well before their two seasons together in Toronto, as the longtime San Jose Sharks forward played for Babcock on Team Canada’s Olympic gold-medal-winning hockey teams in 2010 and 2014. Babcock attended Marleau’s number-retirement ceremony at SAP Center in San Jose earlier this year.
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“I had to have somebody going to bat for me to make those Olympic teams, and I’m pretty sure he was one of the guys that was doing that for me, and our relationship in Toronto was good as well,” Marleau said of Babcock. “I had a role there with the younger guys and was still able to perform on the ice, so it was good.”
Marleau was back inside the Shark Tank on Wednesday as he was more formally introduced as a member of the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.
Other members of the class, which was first announced in June, are Lorrie Fair, Chris Wondolowski, and Dave Stieb. Marleau set a new NHL record with 1,779 regular season games played over a 23-year career, with 1,607 of those games coming with the Sharks.