BUFFALO – Bill Peters has left the Calgary Flames.
While still officially employed by the club as coach, he won’t be joining them for their charter flight back to Calgary after Wednesday’s game.
Peters had joined the team for their charter flight from Pittsburgh to Buffalo Monday, mere hours after Akim Aliu’s tweets surfaced, accusing the Flames coach of uttering racist epithets a decade earlier.
Although staying at the same hotel, Peters has been kept away from the team since his arrival in Buffalo, while GM Brad Treliving and the Flames spearhead an investigation that is now also involving the NHL.
He’s still officially the team’s coach.
But for how long?
“I haven’t talked to Bill,” said associate coach Geoff Ward after the Flames’ morning skate at KeyBank Center.
“Bill and Tree (Treliving) are in communication and nobody else has had that opportunity. We have to respect the process and give them space.”
The process involves the Flames and the league looking into Aliu’s claims, as well as claims by former Hurricane Michal Jordan that he was physically abused by Peters on the bench.
Earlier in the morning Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour dropped the latest bombshell in the ongoing investigation, confirming the two incidents Jordan referred to in his tweets “for sure happened.”
Peters has not responded to an invitation from Sportsnet.ca to comment for the first time since the allegations surfaced.
Former Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner, who now plays for Buffalo, was hesitant to delve into his time with Peters for obvious reasons.
“He was fine with me,” said Skinner.
“Obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on and I’m sure Calgary will get to the bottom of it, but I don’t really have a comment on it. I don’t want to get into it. They’re gathering their facts and I’m sure you guys will find out more from them.”
Flames players also did their best to tiptoe around the delicate situation, with Matthew Tkachuk starting his availability by saying he would only discuss questions about Wednesday’s game.
When asked if the team had been keeping players apprised of the situation, Tkachuk shrugged.
“They don’t have to – our job is to go out there and play,” he said.
While he’s right, the circumstances surrounding this team and this game are radically different than the norm.
There’s a pall cast over a team that was already dealing with plenty of speed bumps that have contributed to their horrific start. Just two weeks ago the players watched in horror as TJ Brodie collapsed and convulsed uncontrollably during practice.
Injuries have mounted in the midst of a recent six-game slide and most of their star players have gone AWOL to start the season.
Ward will be the man behind the bench for the game, but that’s as much as he knows in terms of his coaching future. Assistant coach Martin Gelinas along with assistant GM Craig Conroy will be behind the bench with Ward on Wednesday night.
“I haven’t been told anything yet,” he said of his status moving forward.
“I came to the rink (Tuesday) and was told I was going to run practice. Later on in the day I was told I was going to coach the game (Wednesday night). For us as a staff we’re trying to keep things as normal and consistent as possible for the players. We’ll worry about the next step once we get through the game tonight.”
The hockey world is waiting for the next step to be the Flames’ official parting of ways with Peters – an inevitability given the corroboration of several damning allegations.
The question is when.
After returning from their four-game road trip the Flames have the day off Thursday, which would be an ideal time for management to rip the band-aid off a regrettable situation.
However, the legal delays thus far could prolong the situation further as all parties involved search to find a way to ensure there are no legal missteps moving forward.
Following an optional skate, Mikael Backund admitted he was surprised to hear of the allegations against Peters.
“For sure,” said Backlund, insisting his only focus is the game.
“Bill has been great to me. Nothing bad to say about Bill. We had a great regular season last year and he was a big part of it.”
Sean Monahan echoed that sentiment.
“It’s tough news to hear, but right now we’re just thinking of our game against Buffalo,” he said.
“My relationship (with Peters) has been good. No problems. Right now I want to talk about hockey. When situations happen throughout a season that’s when you’ve got to get closer together and there for one another.”
It will be fascinating to see how a team that has lost seven of its last eight games will respond to the cloud of controversy that has surrounded the team the last 48 hours.
All day long players are privy to the same social media streams that make it clear hockey’s #MeToo movement is afoot.
Hard to ignore, as the discussion league-wide revolves around what big story is poised to drop next.
And how it may affect the Flames further.