It's been 14 months since the Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock, and the former head coach has finally opened up regarding an incident that generated headlines following his dismissal.
Rumors surfaced days after the firing that Babcock made Mitch Marner rank his teammates by work ethic during Marner's rookie season in 2016-17 and later revealed the list to the team. But Babcock said only parts of that story are true.
"Yeah, that's not how that happened, actually," Babcock said, according to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun.
He continued: "So Mitch was in my office. We were talking about work ethic. I asked him where he ranked on the scale. And that was no problem, that was just a private thing. It was a good meeting, Mitch left. But then I was meeting, I'm pretty sure it was with (Tyler) Bozak, afterward. Bozy was an important part of our team.
"What I ended up doing - and I made a big-time mistake, I knew as soon as I did it - when we were talking about competing and I said, 'Well, look where Mitch ranks it."'
Babcock said he immediately went to find Marner to address the situation.
"Well, as soon as I did that, and he saw the list, I knew that I had made a major mistake," Babcock said, according to LeBrun. "After the meeting with Bozak, I went right into the dressing room. I grabbed Mitch and said, 'Mitch, this is what I did. I screwed you here.'"
He added: "Now, in saying that, though, what I should have done in hindsight, I should have stopped everybody and said, 'This is what I did to Mitch. I screwed him.' Now, he didn't want to make a big deal out of it. But I could have made a lesser deal of it."
Marner said in November 2019 that the incident had been surprising, adding he felt lucky his teammates had supported him and hadn't taken the list to heart.
Babcock coached the Maple Leafs to a 173-133-45 record over parts of five seasons. The club made the playoffs in three straight campaigns under Babcock but failed to win a postseason series.
NBC hired the 57-year-old in a studio role last week.