Disgraced former coach Graham James spotted in Mexico

grahamjames.jpgCBC News and The Globe and Mail reporters found pardoned sex offender and former junior hockey coach Graham James living in Mexico. The stomach-turning story is captured here by Greg McArthur.

With dozens of hungry patrons jostling for position at the El Super taco stand, and nuns weaving between double-parked cars, the retired hockey coach carrying a bag of dirty laundry blends neatly into the chaotic street scene.

If Graham James was looking for anonymity, he has found it in this city of six million people, Mexico’s second largest. His slow, deliberate footsteps show no trace of panic – despite the political firestorm he has created in Canada, where it was recently revealed he obtained a behind-closed-doors pardon for hundreds of sexual assaults he committed on two teenage hockey players.

“I’m impressed that you found me,” Mr. James said when approached last week by a team of journalists from The Globe and Mail and CBC, conducting a joint investigation. “But not that I’ve been hiding.”

In April, it was publicly revealed that Mr. James had quietly obtained a pardon from the National Parole Board in 2007. The former junior hockey coach served a 3½-year prison sentence in the late 1990s, after he admitted to sexually assaulting two of his teenaged players more than 300 times.

This is heavy stuff for Pro Hockey Talk, but I’d feel foolish if I ignored a story about one of hockey’s most notorious figures. Discussing shady pardons is, however, outside of my rank but I will say that it’s disgusting that a little power can cause a miscarriage of justice time and time again. Sports coaches, sadly, are often in a position of authority with young, confused people and there times when the worst can happen.

Former NHL great Theo Fleury recently stated that James also sexually assaulted him in his autobiography “Playing with Fire.” (Though it must be noted that Fleury never pressed charges for the alleged claims.) Fleury said that he wasn’t surprised to see his former coach and alleged predator in another country. If there’s a silver lining, the sighting perhaps gave alleged victims such as Fleury a sense of closure. The CBC had Fleury’s reaction.

“He is a shell of his former self, that is for sure,” Fleury said after seeing James on television. “I remember him being a guy that was very confident and very arrogant, and he was none of that.”

Fleury also described seeing his former coach on TV as part of his healing process.

“I knew at some point that I would either have to see him, you know, on television or maybe face-to-face,” he said.

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    Draisaitl’s growth raises questions for Oilers

    EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 29:  Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers faces off against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 29, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    It’s easy to forget about Leon Draisaitl.

    Mostly because he’s not Connor McDavid, and that’s who everyone thinks of when they think of the present-day Edmonton Oilers.

    They also think about the other first overall draft picks: Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, only the latter of whom is still with the team.

    But back to Draisaitl — imagine if (insert your favorite team) had a 21-year-old forward with 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. You’d be pretty excited about that guy, right?

    That’s the season Draisaitl’s currently enjoying. The third overall draft pick in 2014 (yeah, it’s about time the Oilers started to win), he’s scored four goals in his last four games — and no, he doesn’t always get to play with McDavid.

    But the two youngsters have looked good together on special teams, and there have been times when coach Todd McLellan has decided to load up the top line.

    “Leon has no trouble playing the wing. He’s done it before,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Journal. “Sometimes you have a little security there too because Connor and Leon both understand how to play low in the D-zone and the first guy back can assume that position. You also have two centers who can take face-offs as long as you’re not exposed on other lines.”

    Long term, the Oilers would probably like Draisaitl to center his own line. Where he ends up may depend on what they do with Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old center who heard his name plenty in trade rumors as the Oilers tried to shore up their blue line over the summer.

    Though scoring isn’t a huge problem for the Oilers, they could still use an offensive defenseman to help the power play. So far this season, they’ve been making do with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, but adding a real specialist could take their power play from good to great.

    The Oilers may also need to shed some salary at some point. It’s nothing urgent right now, but Draisaitl is a pending restricted free agent and McDavid’s entry-level deal ends after the 2017-18 season. You can imagine what the captain’s second contract might look like.

    Remember that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades, and that June’s expansion draft could be preceded by a number of deals.

    Yes, Chiarelli would have to think long and hard about trading an all-situations player like Nugent-Hopkins, but depending on the return, it might be something he’d consider.

    Related: With McDavid and RNH, where does Draisaitl fit for Oilers?

    Panthers happy to be home after what ‘felt like a one month trip’

    Gerard Gallant, former Florida Panthers head coach, gets into a cab after being relieved of his duties following an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
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    When the Panthers headed out on the road 12 days ago, they’d won three of their last four games and Gerard Gallant was the head coach.

    How things change.

    Gallant was fired, quite infamously, after the first of six away games (a 3-2 loss in Carolina). The club proceeded to lose four of its next five, but did a decent job of securing some points with a shootout defeat in Chicago, and back-to-back OT losses in Boston and Philadelphia.

    Now, the Panthers are just glad to be back home.

    “It felt like a one month trip,” Jussi Jokinen said, per the Miami Herald. “I think it will be nice to go home and spend [Wednesday] with the family, and get our thoughts away from hockey. That will probably be good for all of us.”

    Of course, this doesn’t mean things are going to get easier.

    The Panthers host the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins tonight, a team that’s won three straight and absolutely torched the scoreboard while doing so. Pittsburgh scored a whopping 19 goals over that span and, quite incredibly, only one came on the power play.

    So there’s that to deal with. What’s more, Florida will be without Jonathan Marchessault tonight, while Keith Yandle is a game-time decision.

    After the Pens game, Florida hosts Vancouver before heading back onto the road for a three-game swing through Minnesota, Winnipeg and Colorado.

    Wings get good news on injury front as Athanasiou, Marchenko ready to return

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15:  Andreas Athanasiou #72 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Detroit has won two straight, and could have two key players back for Friday’s home date with Columbus.

    Speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou, who’s missed the last 12 games with a knee injury, has been activated from IR and is ready to go for tomorrow, while d-man Alexey Marchenko — out since Nov. 20 with a shoulder ailment — will either return to face the Jackets, or on Sunday against Philly.

    It’s great news for a Red Wings team that’s been hit hard with injuries. Darren Helm, Tyler Bertuzzi, Brendan Smith and Justin Abdelkader were already missing due to various ailments.

    Athanasiou, one of the fastest players on the team, was off to a pretty solid start before getting knocked by Canucks d-man Nikita Tryamkin on Nov. 10. He had four goals and five points in 13 games, and was averaging 12:06 TOI per night.

    Marchenko, one of the club’s key penalty killers, was averaging over 18 minutes per game prior to getting hurt.

    Both returns come at a key time for the club. Detroit currently sits four points back of Philly for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference — with a game in hand — and now has a big home stretch coming up. The Wings will play their next five at Joe Louis against the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Coyotes, Kings and Ducks.

    Not getting any easier: Slumping Avs take on the Bruins in Boston

    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Head Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche (C) looks on from the bench during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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    Losers of six straight, five of them in regulation, the Colorado Avalanche will be in tough again tonight.

    The Avs will be missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson when they take on the Bruins in Boston. Landeskog (lower body) is getting closer to a return, but he’s not ready yet. Johnson (broken leg) is going to be out a while longer.

    Meanwhile, the Avs’ season has been slipping away. They’re already 10 points back of a wild-card spot, and it’ll be hard to make up ground against a Boston team that’s gone six straight without losing in regulation.

    The Bruins fought back from a 3-0 deficit last night in Washington, where the Capitals eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

    The Avs, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 loss in Nashville. They played the Preds close, and had a strong push late, but ultimately couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne on any of their 13 third-period shots.

    “For me, that was the hardest we played — that was the best game we played in a couple weeks,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “We had some chances to square that game up.”

    Bednar, of course, was a late replacement for Patrick Roy, who abruptly resigned in August. The Avs started the season with three wins in their first four, but have gone 6-13-1 since, at times admitting they’ve been “awful.” 

         Read more: Deadline target? Iginla will ‘cross that bridge when it comes’

    The Avs play Saturday in Montreal then finish their road trip Sunday in Toronto. For Colorado’s sake, at least those two opponents have their own issues. The Canadiens are suddenly down two centers, while the young Maple Leafs are still learning how to win.

    Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will be significant favorites, even though they played last night on the road. Boston (15-10-2) has one of the best lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

    That’s the challenge facing the Avs, who better figure it out soon; otherwise, they’ll need a Christmas miracle to get back into the playoff race.