Chelios, Franzen blast Babcock, citing verbal assaults
Chris Chelios, left, said Mike Babcock, center, gave Johan Franzen, right, “a nervous breakdown” in 2012.
Former Red Wings Chris Chelios and Johan Franzen have blasted former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock with the most serious accusations to have yet come out.
Franzen told Swedish newspaper Expressen that Babcock is “the worst person I ever met.” And Chelios said in the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast that Babcock “verbally assaulted” Franzen and gave him a “nervous breakdown” in 2012.
He also said Babcock told him he would be traded if he didn’t accept the role he gave him. He also disrespected local hero Mike Modano by not allowing him to play in his 1,500th game.
Many of his former players are now publicly telling their stories of Babcock’s questionable coaching tactics after he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs a little less than two weeks ago.
Said Chelios: “We’ll see if someone’s crazy enough to hire him again.”
Franzen talked about the verbal assaults he suffered during the first round of the 2012 playoffs against the Nashville Predators, a series Detroit lost in five games.
“I get the shivers when I think about it,” Franzen told Expressen. “It was coarse, nasty and shocking. But that was just one out of a hundred things he did. The tip of the iceberg.”
Franzen, who retired in 2015 after suffering many concussions in his 11 seasons, has battled post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression since then.
Chelios, who was part of Red Wings management during 2012, described Babcock’s abuse of Franzen.
“Some of the things he said to him 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,” Chelios said. “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, not only on the bench but after the game in one of the rooms in Nashville.
“It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Franzen gave Babcock credit for being well prepared and calculating, putting a game plan together and getting players to “buy into it.”
“But then, he’s a terrible person, the worst I have ever met,” Franzen said. "He’s a bully who was attacking people. It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.
“He would lay into a couple of the other players – the nice team players, the guys who don’t say very much. When they left the team, he went on to focus on me. It was verbal attacks, he said horrible things.”
Babcock, who has more wins than any coach in Red Wings franchise history and who won the 2008 Stanley Cup with the team – could not be reached for comment.
Franzen said he was “terrified” to be at the rink from 2011 on.
“It was just his attacks, playing in my head, each and every day,” he said. “But I got help managing those obsessions during three weeks at a center in Colorado last year. It was me and a group of veterans who also suffered from concussions and PTSD” – post-traumatic stress disorder.
Chelios suffered different kinds of attacks that were still debilitating. He said Babcock wanted to make him a healthy scratch for the 2009 Winter Classic at Chicago’s Wrigley Field “because he knew it was my hometown – just things that were so unnecessary, to show he’s the boss, to show his general manager he’s the boss,” Chelios said.
He added that with Babcock it was “a power thing, his ego – that’s a big part of his personality.”
He said the only reason he played at all in the game was because then-general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill argued with Babcock about it for three days.
Even with Holland and Nill’s influence, Chelios barely skated in the 6-4 Detroit win.
“So what Babs ended up doing was, he suited up seven D for the first time ever … He played me the opening shift, and then didn’t play me another shift the rest of the game,” Chelios said.” That was his way of showing Kenny and Jim Nill he’s not going to be told what to do.”
Later in the podcast, Chelios said he felt Babcock “had it out for me from the beginning.”
Chelios had already been in the NHL for 21 seasons when Babcock became the Red Wings coach in 2005-06.
“He goes, ‘You’re not here to score goals. You’re here to play defense and babysit Brett Lebda,” then a young Detroit defenseman, Chelios said as he described an early-season interaction with Babcock. “And I said, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been plus all training camp.’ And he interrupted me right away and says, ‘If you don’t like it, you can go see Kenny Holland — I’m sure he’ll trade you.’
“So that’s when I became the mentor,” Chelios said. “You know, I didn’t want to leave the team. I loved playing in Detroit, I figured I’d last there as long as I could … by just shutting my mouth and doing what I’m told.”
Chelios said the leadership group of Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg complained about Babcock among themselves and would go to Holland.
But, Chelios said, Holland would always back Babcock.
“Ken Holland came down to the room and gave a speech, and supported Mike Babcock,” Chelios said. “It was a great speech, but it was to tell everybody in the room, ‘If you don’t like it, you could be traded. Come up and see me and get traded.’
“And that’s the way that ended.”
Chelios also said that Babcock was particularly tough on veteran players.
“What he did to (Mike) Modano was incredibly disrespectful. What he did to, just recently, (Jason) Spezza in Toronto – those were the things that are so unnecessary,” he explained.
Babcock made Modano, a Livonia native, a healthy scratch late in 2011 – p for the final season of his NHL career and his only season with the Red Wings, leaving the now-Hall of Famer stuck at 1,499 career games played.
Earlier this season, Babcock’s decision to scratch Spezza in the Maple Leafs’ season-opener against his old club, the Ottawa Senators, was also widely criticized.
Said Chelios: “It’s just stupid things like that, and now it’s obviously coming back to haunt him.”