As we wait for Calgary to finish its investigation into Bill Peters’ conduct, it appears the coach will also have to explain himself to the National Hockey League. The timing is dependent on the Flames’ own actions, but a face-to-face meeting with the league is, in the words of one source, “likely to occur.”
I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but it should be noted that it does raise the possibility of league-mandated punishment in addition to anything Calgary does.
Article VI, Section 5 (j) of the NHL Constitution allows commissioner Gary Bettman to “expel or suspend (anyone) for a definite or indefinite period” who he has determined to be “guilty of conduct detrimental to the League or the game of hockey.”
There is also room for a fine of up to $1 million, and termination of employment. (Any suspension longer than two years can be appealed.)
No one wants this to linger any longer than it has to, but labour lawyers will tell you even the most obvious situations are tricky. It is believed the organization and league are exploring firing Peters for cause, but that may not be easy. The two incidents Peters is being investigated for occurred in another league and on a different contract, respectively. He has the rest of this season and next on a contract that pays him around $2 million (CDN) per season.
A thorough investigation avoids litigation, and that is a major factor.
Earlier Wednesday, Peters’ successor in Carolina corroborated a Twitter accusation made by former Hurricane Michal Jordan:
“For sure (it) happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters, hours before his team was to face the Rangers. “To me, it’s what happened after that I’m proud of, actually. The way the players handled it and the way the sports staff handled it… was bring it to management right away. Management handled it correctly, and (we) never heard of it again, and never saw anything else after that. It was definitely dealt with, in my opinion, correctly.
“We’ve definitely moved past that.”
Players echoed the “moved past that” mantra.
The “other player” Jordan referred to decided not to comment on the incident — which is his right. According to multiple sources, one Hurricane in particular was furious about the alleged incident, confronting Peters and angrily demanding something be done. (He has declined to comment.) Then-GM Ron Francis has not commented on his conversations from the time, but several sources indicate Peters later apologized to the player and the team.
The coach received an extension in July 2016.
Jordan’s tweets came out less than 24 hours after Akim Aliu alleged a racial slur Peters made while coaching AHL Rockford in 2009-10. His accusation was backed by two witnesses. Peters will not coach tonight’s game in Buffalo; associate coach Geoff Ward will run the bench.
Even if a decision on Peters’ future comes quick, the overall arc won’t end. There’s a feeling of “more is coming” — at all levels of the sport. In the social-media era, if someone wants to say something, they can do it in their own voice. Players may trust social media over other avenues — they control the message. There is no doubt that more people are willing to listen.
“These could be very dark days,” one former player said Tuesday. “But you hope they lead to something positive.”
He wasn’t the only person to say that. And it may stretch into other sports.
There is another part of this equation: who knew what, and when. Both Chicago (affiliated with Rockford) and Carolina will, at some point, have to explain more about what happened, how things were handled and why this information was not forwarded to future employers. In his tweets, Aliu alleged that Peters wrote a letter to team president John McDonough and GM Stan Bowman “to have me sent down to the ECHL.” No doubt the search is on for that.
It would be naive to think, as society changes, hockey won’t be forced to change along with it. What was acceptable from coaches years ago is no longer, and anyone who doesn’t adapt is going to be caught. Young players have more power than ever. Those getting to the end of their careers aren’t afraid to unburden themselves.
Everyone, at every level, is preparing for what’s next. We don’t know specifics, but nobody thinks this is the end.