After ‘hard conversations’ about Babcock, will Blue Jackets players be galvanized?

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is only fair to wonder what the chaotic swirl of the last week will do to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ dressing room.

It would be disruptive enough that coach Mike Babcock resigned on Sunday, a few days before the start of camp. But several Blue Jackets veterans landed in an awkward spot after making statements last week that initially painted Babcock’s actions in an innocent light.

It was only later in the week, when the NHL Players’ Association came to Columbus, that other players voiced far different feelings. That meeting between the players and their union leaders was described by one player as “intense.”

Veteran players got to hear from the younger players, who appear to have had far different interactions with Babcock. At minimum, they perceived the interactions differently than the veterans players did.

“Yeah, we learned a lot of new things (in that meeting),” Blue Jackets winger Johnny Gaudreau said, who was in Las Vegas for a league-wide media initiative when the story was first made public by former NHL player Paul Bissonnette on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast.

“I got hit with the news pretty quickly (last Tuesday) and then I was doing media right away. So once we got back from Vegas to meet with the team and everything, a lot more things came to light.”

It was the same for Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner, who issued a statement through the club, and veteran defenseman Zach Werenski, who was interviewed on a Columbus radio station. Their comments, which absolved Babcock of anything untoward, were only reflective of their experiences, they said.

The meeting with the NHLPA is what changed everything. And as the dust settled over the days that followed — Blue Jackets management was briefed on the NHLPA’s report on Friday, leading to Babcock’s resignation — there were more meetings among the players.

“The past week has really brought us together, closer,” Jenner said. “I’m pretty proud of the group for that, to be honest, because this is a different situation. No one’s ever been in this spot.

“The PA came in and we’ve had lots of talks as a group, and sometimes that can bring you closer together, and I think that was the case for us.”

Typically, rookies and young players do a lot of listening in team meetings. But everybody had a chance to speak, Gaudreau said.

“When you go through a situation like this, it’s hard, but you can come together as a team a lot quicker than you think,” Gaudreau said. “And having those hard conversations, you know, I think helped us for the better and today as a team we’re better than we were a few days ago.”

The Blue Jackets made significant changes during the offseason, from drafting center Adam Fantilli with the No. 3 overall selection, to signing forward Dmitri Voronkov out of the KHL, to acquiring two veteran defensemen, Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson, in trades.

The competition for lineup spots in training camp should be intense, and now they’re adjusting to a new coach. Pascal Vincent, an associate coach in Columbus the past two seasons, was promoted to replace Babcock.

In that sense, Vincent’s job the next couple of days won’t have much to do with Xs and Os. Tuesday was truly the last day of summer for the Blue Jackets. On Wednesday, they have medical testing. The first day of on-ice activities is Thursday.

“It’s been a difficult few days, don’t get me wrong,” Vincent said. “We’ve been facing some adversity. As a team, as a person, as a coach, what do you do? You face it and you move on. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to be ready for Thursday. We’re going to be on the ice and we’re going to get going.

“The players want to move past this. They want to use this as something that can make us stronger. They’re all excited about this year.”

(Photo: Jason Mowry / USA Today)

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