Darren McCarty on Mike Babcock, cold-cocking Lemieux, Cup clincher and more

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Mike Babcock needs a job.

The former Detroit Red Wings coach was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in November after a 9-10-4 start to the 2019-20 season, and at the time, it was tough to find any former player who had anything sympathetic to say about it.

Darren McCarty nets the clincher as the Red Wings sweep the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup in 1997.

Former Wings defenseman Chris Chelios recalled a time where Babcock “verbally assaulted” Johan Franzen on the bench during the 2012 playoffs. After that story went public, Franzen confirmed the interaction to Swedish newspaper Expressen, shoring up the harsh feelings by calling his old coach “a terrible person.”

Four-time Stanley Cup champion Darren McCarty, who won three Cups under Hall-of-Fame coach Scotty Bowman, was the latest retired player to detail the experience with Babcock behind the bench. McCarty told hosts of the “Locked On Red Wings Podcast” that the two-time Cup winner “is one of those ‘belittling’ guys.”

“You always trusted Scotty (Bowman) because you respected him,” McCarty said. “I couldn’t say that about Babcock. … He’s the most egotistical person I’ve ever met, and I don’t understand that. Because like I said, I played with so many Hall-of-Famers, that when guys that are allowed to be that way, don’t act that way, and then you act that way, I don’t have respect for that.”

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Still, the experience wasn’t all negative on McCarty’s end.

“I would say Mike Babcock is the greatest X’s and O’s, video preparation coach. Stats, I love stats, you’re all prepared like that,” McCarty said. “His practices are better than games. The way that he does the video, does the preparation, does all that stuff, I’m taking a page out of Mike Babcock’s book, not Scotty Bowman’s book.”

Will the number of people celebrating Babcock’s demise play a factor in whether he returns as a head coach in the NHL? It certainly doesn’t help, but even so, McCarty believes there’s a way that Babcock can land a new role.

“People are allowed to change,” McCarty said. “I think if his operating procedure’s different, and he figures out a new way, does he deserve another chance? I believe he does, if he’s changed.”

Darren McCarty signs autographs during a red carpet entrance before the Red Wings' home opener in 2019.

Here are other highlights from the “Locked On Red Wings” three-part interview with McCarty:

►On leaving the hospital with Kris Draper after the hit by Claude Lemieux: “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,’ and, ‘Where do you want to eat?’ That was a loaded question; I knew we were going to Andiamo’s because he told me he wanted a plate of gnocchi. If you want to know how long it takes a guy with his jaw wired shut and titanium plates in his face to eat a freakin’ plate of gnocchi, it’s four hours, bro. Four freakin’ hours. Don’t worry, I was drinking back then, I was in Grosse Pointe, I was out on a boat, so I was fine, but it takes four hours. I mean, it’s amazing, the persistence. But he loved the gnocchi and enjoyed every bit of it.”

►On what it felt like to cold-cock Lemieux: “When I pulled my fist back — and I'm a lefty, and if you see, I pulled the right back, cause it’s hard. The right’s way harder, but it never hits the mark. When I pulled that back, every man, woman, child, grandmother, deceased person, everybody in history got into that hand. And I hit him so hard. It was like a golf ball when you pure it. That’s how his face felt.”

►On “Fight Night at the Joe,” March 26, 1997: “During the fight with Lemieux, I’m focused on just trying to drive my fist through his skull and rip his heart out through his nose. Because it was better than stepping on him with my skate. I wouldn’t have gotten away with that.

Darren McCarty lifts the Stanley Cup in 1997.

►On his Cup-clinching goal against the Flyers: “Stevie (Yzerman) said that I high-fived half the crowd. That is not correct. I wanted to high-five the whole crowd. But instead I double-pirouetted in the corner … But the best part is … I grew up in Leamington (Ontario), which is, give or take, 10 minutes from the border, 40 minutes from the house I grew up in. So 1983, when Steve Yzerman’s there, I’m 11 years old. … When I come out of this double spin, and I look, and I see Steve Yzerman, who you’ve idolized since you were a little kid, who’s got eyes as wide as dinner saucers, looking at you going, ‘What the F was that?’ And then this is how you know it’ll always be alright, because Stevie goes, ‘Well thank God you don’t have to do it again.’”

►On Chris Osgood’s best pranks: “(Kirk Maltby) and I are laughing because now (Fox Sports Detroit analyst) John Keating’s gotta deal with Ozzy. We watch him, and he’s always messing with Keats, and that’s the way Ozzy was, especially if he wasn’t playing, man. If he wasn’t playing, his prime target would always be sort of Drapes. I’m kind of the guinea pig. He tried all his stuff on me.

►On former general manager Ken Holland and the culture created by the Ilitch family: “The greatest thing (about Holland) and all the organization, and the culture, is because we all cared about each other as people. It’s shown in all the highs, but the lows that I’ve been through, and who are the ones who’ve stood behind me? And been there to help me find my way? Or just been there to know that there’s nothing they can do, but when I was ready, they’d be there. Sometimes, to have that unconditional love, and to know that no matter what, transcends … that’s what the Red Wings organization, the winged wheel crest — it’s not about being a choir boy, it’s about having pure intentions. When you make a mistake, you own up to it. It’s about being a man. That’s the precedent set by Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch.”