NHL offseason grades: Columbus Blue Jackets' hiring of Mike Babcock backfires

The Columbus Blue Jackets tried this summer to get in the playoff hunt by hiring coach Mike Babcock, an established winner who also had baggage.

After he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019, stories arose of bullying in Toronto and Detroit. But Babcock said he had changed and knew how to deal with younger players after advising the University of Vermont team and coaching at the University of Saskatchewan.

Babcock didn't even last until training camp. Sunday, he resigned from the Blue Jackets, following investigations from the NHL and NHL Players' Association into the podcast Spittin' Chiclets' report that he asked players to show him photos from their phones.

"We got it wrong, and that's on us," Blue Jackets executive John Davidson said during a news conference on Monday.

Columbus Blue Jackets introduced Mike Babcock as their new head coach in July. He stepped down on Sept. 17.

The Blue Jackets initially released statements from Babcock and captain Boone Jenner that said the podcast misrepresented their exchange and it was just an attempt to get to know his players better. But NHLPA leaders came to Columbus last week to talk to players and made their report to the league on Friday. The league and NHLPA then contacted Davidson.

Two days later − and three days before training camp open − Babcock quit, saying if he continued in the job, it was "going to be too much of a distraction." That leaves Pascal Vincent as the team's coach this season. And it also caused embarrassment for the franchise.

"Our ownership group is deeply frustrated and disappointed by the events of the past week," majority team owner John P. McConnell said in a statement, adding, "We do not anticipate further changes to our hockey leadership team at this time. Additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp."

NHL training camps open on Wednesday. Here are our updated NHL offseason grades:

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Anaheim Ducks: B

Alex Killorn and Radko Gudas, who have plenty of playoff experience, were nice additions to help a younger core. The Ducks avoided arbitration and got Troy Terry signed for seven seasons, but still have to get Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale signed. Their decision to draft Leo Carlsson ahead of Adam Fantilli was a little surprising. The additions of defensemen Gudas, Robert Hagg and Ilya Lyubushkin should help a team that gave up the most goals and had the second-worst penalty kill. Shoring up the defensive play should be a priority for Greg Cronin, a first-time NHL head coach at age 60. The Ducks won't be the bottom team again, but they have a ways to go to be a playoff team.

Arizona Coyotes: B

The Coyotes gave coach Andre Tourigny and general manager Bill Armstrong extensions after a 13-point improvement last season and added some veteran presence with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. They also traded for Sean Durzi, but the biggest move was persuading Logan Cooley to join the team instead of returning to college. The Coyotes also made news by signing Alex Galchenyuk, then terminating his contract after his arrest.

Boston Bruins: C-

The team that set a record with 65 wins last season will take a step back because of departures, particularly the retirement of captain Patrice Bergeron. He's irreplaceable, and center David Krejci's retirement also weakens the team down the middle. James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Geekie, Milan Lucic and Kevin Shattenkirk arrived on bargain deals, but they had to trade Taylor Hall and didn't hang on to trade deadline acquisitions Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway. They still have their strong goalie tandem, defensive depth and productive forwards to challenge for a division title.

Buffalo Sabres: B

The Sabres missed ending their 12-year playoff drought by one point. They were mostly quiet this offseason, re-signing their top players and adding defensemen Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton. That shows their faith in their core, but another move might be beneficial, particularly more experience in net.

Calgary Flames: D

Last offseason, they lost Johnny Gaudreau to free agency and had to trade Matthew Tkachuk because he wasn't going to re-sign. This offseason, they traded 34-goal scorer Tyler Toffoli (acquiring Yegor Sharangovich) and will have to make decisions on 2024 pending unrestricted free agents Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Noah Hanifin. New GM Craig Conroy and new coach Ryan Huska have their work cut out for them this season.

Carolina Hurricanes: A

Orlov joins a loaded blueline and they brought back Tony DeAngelo, who will help the power play, though his five-on-five play struggles at times. They also added Caleb Jones for depth. Goalies Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta were re-signed to inexpensive contracts and Pyotr Kochetkov can step in if one gets hurt. Michael Bunting, who has back-to-back 23-goal seasons, also joined, as did rugged forward Brendan Lemieux.

Chicago Blackhawks: B

Draft lottery luck and selecting generational talent Connor Bedard will make this team better. They acquired former No. 1 overall pick Hall to aid Bedard's development and added veterans Corey Perry and Nick Foligno. This team will be better, but it's still early in the rebuild.

Colorado Avalanche: B+

The Avalanche learned that captain Gabriel Landeskog will miss another season and changed up their forwards. In are Ryan Johansen, Miles Wood, Tomas Tatar, Ross Colton and Jonathan Drouin. Out are free agents J.T. Compher, Evan Rodrigues and Andrew Cogliano, plus Alex Newhook, who was traded. Drouin was Nathan MacKinnon's linemate in junior hockey and hasn't met the potential expected of a No. 3 overall pick. Maybe a reunion can help.

Columbus Blue Jackets: D-

Babcock's hiring and abrupt departure overshadows everything. Their roster moves were helpful. This team was crushed by injuries last season, particularly one to defenseman Zach Werenski. So adding defensive depth with Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson was important. The Blue Jackets caught a break when Fantilli fell to them in the draft.

Dallas Stars: A-

The Stars reached the Western Conference final behind a strong group of forwards. They added Matt Duchene on a reasonable one-year, $3 million deal after he was bought out by the Nashville Predators. He had 43 goals two seasons ago but dropped to 22 last season as the Predators dealt with injuries among their forwards. He should be able to get to the 30-goal range again.

Detroit Red Wings: A

They were the most active in free agency, adding Shayne Gostisbehere, Justin Holl, Compher, Daniel Sprong and a couple of goalies on the opening day. That group didn't include a pure goal scorer, but they acquired one with the Alex DeBrincat trade and signed him to a four-year extension. The Michigan native is a two-time 40-goal scorer who dropped to 27 last season after a trade to Ottawa. The Red Wings then added Petry, a two-way veteran right-shot defenseman who's the son of former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry. This is the second consecutive year that GM Steve Yzerman was aggressive in the offseason. It didn't work last season and Detroit was a seller at the trade deadline. This year, the Red Wings seem like they might have a better chance.

Edmonton Oilers: C+

The Oilers signed former Connor McDavid junior hockey teammate Connor Brown and re-signed power play quarterback Evan Bouchard for two seasons but were otherwise relatively quiet. They also named Jeff Jackson, McDavid's now-former agent, CEO of hockey operations. The Oilers' fate relies on their goaltending. Can Jack Campbell bounce back? Will Stuart Skinner build on a rookie season in which he was a Calder Trophy finalist?

Florida Panthers: B-

The Stanley Cup finalist Panthers added a versatile forward in Rodrigues, plus Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Reilly, defensemen who had been bought out. But the team has some carry-over injuries from its playoff run and can't afford a slow start after barely clinching a postseason spot last season.

Los Angeles Kings: B-

The Kings improved their center depth by acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois in a sign and trade. He's signed for eight years and No. 1 center Anze Kopitar got a two-year extension through 2025-26. The price for Dubois was steep, with Alex Iafallo, Gabriel Vilardi and prospect Rasmus Kupari heading to Winnipeg. The Kings also shipped out defenseman Durzi and lost goalie Joonas Korpisalo to free agency. New backup goalie Cam Talbot needs a bounce-back season.

Minnesota Wild: C

They were pretty quiet, acquiring rugged forward Pat Maroon. He'll help fill the role of Ryan Reaves, who left in free agency. They avoided arbitration with goalie Filip Gustavsson and signed him for three years, meaning he's under contract for two years more than Marc-Andre Fleury.

Montreal Canadiens: C

They're rebuilding so this summer was about getting younger. They made a nice trade for Newhook, 22, and added assets by being the third team in the Karlsson trade. That included picking up Petry in the trade and flipping him for 24-year-old defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and a draft pick.

Nashville Predators: B+

New GM Barry Trotz immediately put his mark on the team. He bought out Duchene and traded Johansen, signed coveted free agent center Ryan O'Reilly and rugged defenseman Luke Schenn. The Predators missed the playoffs by three points. These moves, plus the coaching change from John Hynes to Andrew Brunette, could make up that difference.

New Jersey Devils: A-

The Devils re-signed Timo Meier to an eight-year deal after acquiring him ahead of the trade deadline. They also re-signed Jesper Bratt long-term and added Toffoli. This team's forward group is impressive, and they cleared out room on defense for youngsters Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec.

New York Islanders: C

The Islanders spent the summer getting players re-signed, and they'll continue with their strong goaltending tandem of Ilya Sorokin (eight-year extension) and Semyon Varlamov (four-year deal). The Islanders had the No. 22-ranked offense last season and they didn't do much to improve that.

New York Rangers: B-

The Rangers changed coaches and added bought-out Blake Wheeler, backup goalie Jonathan Quick and other players on cheap contracts. The key, though, will be whether new coach Peter Laviolette can get more production out of Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere.

Ottawa Senators: B

The Korpisalo signing is promising if he matches what he did after last season's trade to Los Angeles. They gave defenseman Jake Sanderson a lucrative extension after two seasons. They had to trade DeBrincat and the return was OK, though they did get back a first-round pick after giving up a first-rounder to acquire him a year earlier. If free agent Vladimir Tarasenko returns to his 30-goal seasons after getting 18 last season, the Senators' offense should be in good shape.

Philadelphia Flyers: C

The Flyers are in a long rebuild, so they were able to be patient and draft high-skilled forward Matvei Michkov, who's signed in Russia though 2025-26. They parted with Kevin Hayes and DeAngelo, who didn't fit with coach John Tortorella, and added a Tortorella-type player in Hathaway. Philadelphia also traded Provorov, signed Marc Staal and got a favorable ruling from the International Ice Hockey Federation on goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov's contract. It could be another long season for Flyers fans, but there are plenty of Michkov highlights to watch on social media.

Newly acquired Penguins defenseman Erik Karlsson holds his first news conference in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Penguins: A-

New general manager Kyle Dubas figured out a way to accomodate Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson's $11.5 million cap hit by getting the Montreal Canadiens involved in the trade with the San Jose Sharks. In the process, he shipped out Jeff Petry and Mikael Granlund, two acquisitions by predecessor Ron Hextall who didn't pan out. The Penguins also signed solid defenseman Ryan Graves for six years. Reilly Smith, acquired from the Golden Knights, will fill the spot of the departed Zucker. Dubas also made changes to the bottom six forwards in hopes of getting more production than last season. The only quibble: giving a five-year deal to Tristan Jarry, who's an All-Star but has had injury issues.

St. Louis Blues: B-

The Blues acquired All-Star Hayes for a sixth-round pick and signed Oskar Sundqvist, a depth forward who won a Stanley Cup with St. Louis before he was traded in 2022.

San Jose Sharks: C

Being without Karlsson will hurt, and the return wasn't fantastic. Perhaps Granlund and Mike Hoffman can get back to their old scoring numbers. If not, they could be dealt before the deadline to aid the rebuild. The addition of Anthony Duclair, who had a career-best 31 goals two seasons ago before missing much of the 2022-23 regular season with injury, holds promise.

Seattle Kraken: B

They were mostly quiet, re-signing top defenseman Vince Dunn for four years, adding depth forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and giving an extension to coach Dave Hakstol. But they didn't need to do much to a team that made the playoffs in its second season of existence with a 40-point improvement.

Tampa Bay Lightning: C

The Lightning continued their trend of a big re-signing (Brandon Hagel) and key departures (Killorn, Colton, Maroon and Perry). They also signed forward Tyler Motte after offseason signee Josh Archibald informed the team that he wasn't "planning on playing hockey for the time being." Tampa Bay's championship window remains because of a strong core, but the team seems weaker.

Toronto Maple Leafs: A

New general manager Brad Treliving signed Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL in goals since he entered the league in 2016-17, to a four-year extension with a record $13.25 million cap hit. They have him for five more seasons, through age 30, at a cap hit not much greater than his current $11.6 million. Tyler Bertuzzi (one 30-goal season, two 20-goal seasons) and Max Domi (two 20-goal seasons) add scoring and grit. Reaves also makes Toronto tougher. The Maple Leafs also signed veteran goalie Martin Jones in case Justin Woll isn't ready to assume the backup role.

Vancouver Canucks: C

The Canucks bought out Ekman-Larsson and signed defenseman Ian Cole and forwards Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter. Their priority will be an extension for Elias Pettersson, who'll be a restricted free agent at season's end. The 24-year-old told that he's putting contract talks on hold so he can focus on preparing for the season. He's undecided whether he wants a short-term deal or a longer one.

Vegas Golden Knights: A

They traded original team member Smith to the Penguins, but that allowed them to re-sign goalie Adin Hill and trade deadline acquisition Ivan Barbashev. Both played a big role in the Golden Knights' championship run and Barbashev is four years younger than Smith.

Washington Capitals: C-

The big move was the seven-year extension for Tom Wilson, who's a future captain but also missed a lot of time last season with a knee injury. They also signed Max Pacioretty to an incentive-laden, one-year deal. But he'll miss the beginning of the season after a second tear to his Achilles tendon. The Capitals will need better injury luck after Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson missed significant time. New coach Spencer Carbery will try to lead the team back to the playoffs after earlier spending three years coaching the Capitals' Hershey affiliate.

Winnipeg Jets: B-

The Jets bought out Wheeler and got a good return for Dubois. The key question is what happens with goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and forward Mark Scheifele, who will be UFAs next summer. The Jets, who barely made the playoffs last season, have tough decisions ahead.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL offseason grades: Blue Jackets' Mike Babcock hiring backfires