If any good can come from the events that led to Bill Peters’ resignation Friday as coach of the Calgary Flames, two days after he admitted he had used offensive language “in a professional setting” with Nigerian-born player Akim Aliu a decade ago, it will be to launch discussions about what constitutes appropriate behavior for coaches at every level in hockey, and beyond.
Start with this: Anyone who resorts to physical or verbal abuse to convey a message is a coward and doesn’t deserve the honor of being called “coach.”
The non-apology apology Peters sent to his boss, general manager Brad Treliving, made Peters’ departure from the organization inevitable. Peters didn’t express regrets to Aliu, whose account of being the target of racial epithets was corroborated by two of his teammates with Rockford (Ill.) of the American Hockey League. Aliu also alleged Peters derailed his career by demoting him, which Peters didn’t address.
Nor did Peters apologize for kicking defenseman Michal Jordan and punching another player in the head while they were with the Hurricanes. Rod Brind’Amour, then a Carolina assistant coach and now the Hurricanes’ head coach, confirmed those actions. “It for sure happened,” Brind’Amour said, adding that players alerted management about the incidents. Ron Francis, then Carolina’s general manager and now the GM of the expansion Seattle franchise, said in a statement Saturday that a group of players and “hockey staff members” had made him aware of the two physical incidents involving two players and Peters. “I took this matter very seriously. I took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership,” he said. “To my knowledge, no further such incidents occurred.”
In a statement released Friday, the NHL said it’s still reviewing Peters’ actions. “There are meetings scheduled with relevant individuals — including Akim Aliu — in the coming days,” the statement said.
Coach-player relationships can be complicated. That’s especially true in hockey, where humility and respect for authority are primary lessons. Athletes can be reluctant to complain about a coach’s abusive words or actions because that coach has the power to advance or derail their career. In some sad cases, the abuse becomes sexual, like convicted sex offender Graham James’ molestation of Sheldon Kennedy, Theo Fleury and other junior-level players. Especially at the youth level, teams and leagues should provide resources for athletes, so they can speak up if they feel unsafe or bullied.
This isn’t about kids having become soft. It’s about people with influence inflicting life-changing emotional damage. It’s possible for a coach to be demanding without being demeaning. Not every coach stays on the right side of that line.
Geoff Ward, an associate coach under Peters, was appointed the Flames’ interim coach. He took over a team that has underachieved this season and now needs a calming influence. “We’re not going to implement huge changes. Our players know how to play the game,” Ward told the team’s website. “Right now, I think it’s so important that collectively we come together as a group.”
Islanders’ streak ends, but not their success
The New York Islanders took a club-record 15-0-2 point streak to Southern California, where they fell back to earth with a 3-0 loss to the Ducks and a 4-1 loss to the Kings last week. But they’re still among the NHL’s top defensive teams and they’re challenging the Washington Capitals for the lead in the Metropolitan division with a group that lacks superstars but has character and balance.
Credit goes to general manager Lou Lamoriello for building a deep roster and to coach Barry Trotz, one of the few NHL coaches who make a distinct difference wherever they go. The Islanders were fortunate to get Trotz, who left the Washington Capitals because of a salary dispute soon after he had led them to the Stanley Cup in 2018. “I think he puts a structure in and holds the players accountable. That’s the key — he’s holding them accountable,” Lamoriello said last week in Anaheim. “And respect. He respects the players and they respect him and everybody feels good about it.
“I think it’s an extension of last season, Barry coming in and setting a structure and a group of players who want to be successful and committed to what the process was and have maintained it right through. The players that were brought in were the type of players who complemented who was here, and it’s just been a good mix. And we’ve been able to bring in young players at different times to bring them along, so it’s been good so far.”
Their rivals respect that. “We look at that team, and that’s kind of where you aspire to go,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “They’re just one hell of a team and Mr. Lamoriello has done a great job there getting that group together. And obviously, that coach, Barry, he’s second to none.”
The Islanders also have overcome the additional challenge of splitting their home games between Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Nassau Coliseum; their new arena at Belmont Park is expected to open for the 2021-22 season. “They just accept it as what it is and they don’t allow any distractions to get in the way. That’s been very nice to see,” Lamoriello said.
The NHL suspended Washington Capitals defenseman Garnet Hathaway three games for spitting in the face of Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson, which was disgusting and unsanitary but didn’t cause long-term harm.
Then, the league’s Department of Player Safety banished Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak two games for an elbow that gave Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin a concussion and forced him out of the lineup indefinitely, and it banned St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo for only four games because of a dirty second cross-check on a defenseless Viktor Arvidsson, who suffered a lower-body injury and is expected to be out four to six weeks.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The idea of suspending the culprit as long as the victim is sidelined won’t work because the injured player’s recovery could be falsely prolonged to keep the offender off the ice. But justice wasn’t served for Dahlin or Arvidsson. If the NHL really is serious about cleaning up the game ... Never mind. It isn’t.
Home ice advantage at the Gahden
The Bruins improved to 10-0-4 at home by rallying for a 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Rangers on Friday. Right wing David Pastrnak extended his league goal-scoring lead to 24 and became the fourth player in NHL history to have two straight months in which he scored 12 goals or more. The others, according to the league’s PR folks, are Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky.
Boston, which ranks among the league leaders in goals scored per game and fewest goals allowed, appears to be hitting its stride. The Bruins have won six straight games and are 7-0-3 in their last 10, an impressive run. They also had an 18-game point streak earlier this season.