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The Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock recently.
Zack Kassian of the Edmonton Oilers battles against Jordie Benn of the Canucks in October.
Rashaad Penny of the Seahawks runs the ball for touchdown in the fourth quarter in a win against the Eagles.
Canucks tough guys Kevin Bieksa (left) and Gino Odjick exchange greetings before a game against the Edmonton Oilers on April, 11, 2015 at Rogers Arena.
As we start the holiday season, here are the always festive Monday morning musings and meditations on the world of sports:
• Mike Brown had no illusions about his place in the NHL.
He was, at best, a marginal player whose principal value was in his size — 6-foot-4, 220 pounds — and his ability to fight. Those, er, attributes got him selected in the first round of the 1997 draft by Florida. But Brown would play just 34 NHL games over seven pro seasons, including 16 with the Canucks who acquired him in the Pavel Bure trade with the Panthers during the 1998-99 season.
“I feel fortunate to have played,” says Brown, a Vancouver kid who’s now a sales manager for a car dealership. “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t change much about any of it.”
So keep that in mind as the following story is related. In 2002, Brown was claimed on waivers by Anaheim where Mike Babcock was the head coach. This is how Brown describes his first meeting with Babcock: I don’t want you on our team. We don’t need you. The only reason you’re here is Bryan Murray (then the Ducks general manager) drafted you in Florida.
Subsequent events have since suggested that wasn’t exactly out-of-character for Babcock.
In the last week or so, a heated debate has erupted in the hockey world over what constitutes acceptable behaviour for a head coach.
Bill Peters aside, it’s a tricky one. Incidents that occurred 20, 30, 40 years ago are being viewed through the lens of 2019, and attitudes have changed. For most of the game’s history, the coach was an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful despot who was free to utilize any method short of common assault to motivate his team.
Come to think of it, that one was used as well. Let’s just say all that is now under review.
Coaching, in the pro ranks at least, requires an edge that makes some uncomfortable. The coach has to be demanding. He or she has to be critical. He or she has to use a variety of techniques to reach their players.
But there’s also a line that can’t be crossed. Coaches can poke and prod in an effort to bring out the best in their players or team but once they belittle, once they demean, once they dehumanize, they’ve crossed that line.
Maybe that line didn’t exist all those years ago and we don’t have the time or space to recount all the stories I heard covering the WHL through the 1980s. But it exists now. Sports doesn’t always evolve in lockstep with the times. In some ways, they can be ahead of societal norms. In others, they can lag behind.
But this is one of those cases where hockey needed to take a long, hard look at itself. The change had started long before this week, but it appears recent events have accelerated that process.
At least you hope that’s the case. Coaching should be an honourable profession practised by honourable men and women. It comes with great power, but with that power comes a greater responsibility. All coaches would do well to remember that.
• If you watched Zack Kassian during his 171 games as a Canuck, you knew there was a player there somewhere. It just didn’t seem the hockey world would ever see that player. Bent on self-destruction, Kassian was on a ruinous path that could have taken him a hundred different places, none of them good, when he turned his life around.
Now, five years after he was dumped by the Canucks, Kassian is the player he always thought he could be. More importantly, at 28, he’s become the man he had hoped to be.
“I was in a place where I didn’t know if I’d ever play again,” Kassian says of his well-publicized battle with substance abuse. “ When you think you’re never going to play in the NHL, you make a conscious decision to turn your life around. You don’t take anything for granted after something is close to being taken away from you.”
Saturday night in Edmonton Kassian scored his ninth goal of the season. He missed Sunday’s rematch in Vancouver with a back injury, but, playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, he’s on pace to score 30 this season. Nice story that.
• Not sure if I’ve ever seen Bo Horvat play a more complete game than he did Saturday in Edmonton.
• Couple of things to consider as the Seahawks prepare for their critical Monday matchup with the Vikings. In the Pete Carroll era, they’re 9-2 on Monday nights and 28-5-1 in prime time, including a ridiculous 18-2 at home. Since 2012, Russell Wilson’s first year as the starting quarterback, they’re also 23-9 in December.
After the Monday-nighter, the Seahawks have four games left on their schedule: at Los Angeles, at Carolina, then home to Arizona and San Francisco. If they get past the Vikings, they take control of the NFC West, and the top seed in the conference — and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — isn’t out of the question.
At that point, the Seahawks become a legitimate Super Bowl team.
• Finally, after spending 10 years interviewing Kevin Bieksa, it’s not really surprising he’s taken to his TV gig in a big way. Smart, funny, irreverent and always confident, he could easily become the most popular commentator in the game if he commits to the tube full-time. As it is, listening to him tell the story about fighting Kassian in an elevator, or the reasons he punted Shane O’Brien as a roommate, are TV gold.
Hope he stays with it. Plus, I want to live in a world where Bieksa is part of the media.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019