Bill Peters

Ron Francis speaks about handling of Peters situation while Hurricanes GM

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NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis has responded to how physical abuse accusations against former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters were handled when he was the team’s GM.

Speaking with The Seattle Times this week, Francis said he addressed the issue with Peters and defended giving him a two-year extension after the fact.

“We looked where the team was and how it was playing,” Francis said. “It was moving in the right direction. We’d made a huge increase from where it was the year before to where we were that year. And quite honestly, we looked at that (physical-abuse) situation, we addressed it and we felt it was behind him.”

“I think you deal with it the best you can with the situation you have at the time,” Francis said. “I think within the last week there have been some changes the league has made. I think that’s positive moving forward. I don’t claim to be perfect. I make mistakes. I try to learn every day from the people I talk with in situations. That’s what I try to do and take that knowledge moving forward. And hopefully you’re never in that situation again.”

Last month, after Peters was accused to uttering racial slurs at Akim Aliu, whom he coached in the American Hockey League, former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan said that Peters kicked him in the back and punched another player during a game. The allegations for were confirmed by current head coach Rod Brind’Amour, who was an assistant under Peters.

Former Hurricanes majority owner Peter Karmanos told The Seattle Times that he would have fired Francis “in a nanosecond” had he been made aware of the allegations against Peters, even though Francis, who added there was a full vetting process during the hiring process, said he informed management of the situation.

Peters resigned as Calgary Flames head coach days after the allegations went public. In a statement that week Francis acknowledged he was made aware of the incidents and that he “took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership.” He did not reveal what he did to correct the matter in either his statement or in the interview with the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“When you look back, there were some things we did well and certain things we need to improve on to get better,” he said. “That’s part of the learning process, I think.”

The NHL revealed a four-point plan this week at the Board of Governors that will provide a guideline for teams in handling abuse allegations and other inappropriate conduct.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bettman explains how NHL will handle abuse, other actions that ‘cross the line’

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The NHL’s Board of Governors meetings are taking place this week, so this served as an opportunity for the league to address issues of abuse, including Bill Peters’ racists remarks made toward Akim Aliu, which factored in the Calgary Flames parting ways with Peters.

” … The world is changing for the better,” Gary Bettman’s statement read. ” … Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind.”

You can read the entire (lengthy) statement at the bottom of this post, but here are some of the key points.

  • Bettman claims that the Peters situation took the NHL by “complete surprise.”

“There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline,” Bettman said in the statement.

  • Bettman laid out the early details on “a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion” that would involve all head coaches and minor league coaches under contracts with NHL teams, along with other front office members (GMs, assistant GMs, and assistant coaches). Bettman said that the program will be created by “outside professionals” and that the NHLPA and the coaches’ association would likely have input.
  • Bettman explained that the league hopes to create a platform (“perhaps a hotline”) for “a teammate, trainer, or even the player himself” to report incidents, “either anonymously or for attribution.”

When asked, Bettman clarified that there would be anonymity for “whistleblowers.”

Bettman also told reporters that investigations regarding Marc Crawford continue to be ongoing.

Considering that the “outside professionals” involved in a hotline weren’t named, and other details were outlined broadly, it sounds like quite a bit of these initiatives could be considered a work in progress.

Here’s the full statement from Bettman:

As one of the preeminent professional sports leagues in the world and the preeminent hockey league in the world, we recognize and embrace our role in setting an example.

We are now obviously aware of conduct that was and is unacceptable. Whether it happened 10 years ago or last week, the answer must be the same – it is unacceptable.

While we may not have known, the fact is that we as a League – on behalf of ourselves, our teams, and our players, coaches, organizations and fans – must respond in a clear, meaningful and appropriate manner. Professionalism and respect have always been important to the League, but it is now a particularly important time to discuss it because everyone is entitled to a respectful workplace.

The world is changing for the better. This is an opportunity, and a moment, for positive change and this evolution should be expedited – for the benefit of everyone associated with the game we love. And even while change is taking effect, we still must acknowledge things that were wrong in the past. That acknowledgment allows those who were wronged to be heard, and it gives all of us an opportunity to prevent these things from happening again.

Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzzwords, they are foundational principles for the NHL. It’s why we initiated the Declaration of Principles and why we invest so much time and effort, along with so many resources into our Learn to Play and Hockey is For Everyone programs. Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind.

So, let me now address how we move forward.

I’d like to convey to you exactly what was said to the Board of Governors during our meeting.

1. We don’t like surprises – the Bill Peters situation was a complete surprise.

Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive, or that may violate the League’s policies, involving NHL Club personnel, on or off the ice, we at the League office – Bill Daly or me – must be immediately advised. There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline.

As it relates to incidents involving Bill Peters in Carolina – there seems to be some confusion between statements by Peter Karmanos and Ron Francis, which I still need to sort out. However, I am fairly clear that none of this has anything to do with Carolina under Tom Dundon, who was among the first to call me when Peters’ conduct came to light and he first learned about the Peters physical abuse allegations in Carolina.

2. While I do not believe most NHL coaches conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner – in fact, I believe most NHL coaches are professional and respectful in the way they coach and the profession is not deserving of blanket condemnation because of the conduct of some individuals – however in order to expedite a change in culture and make clear the expectations we have for the conduct of coaches and other personnel, we will formulate a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.

This program will be required for all Head Coaches, Minor League Coaches under contract with NHL teams, Assistant Coaches, General Managers and Assistant General Managers. We will focus the programming on training and other exercises and initiatives to ensure respectful locker rooms, training facilities, games, and all other hockey-related activities; and teach to ensure bystander intervention techniques, anti-harassment, anti-hazing, non-retaliation and anti-bullying best practices.

The exact structure of the program will be created by outside professionals in the field and we will consult with the Players’ Association and the Coaches’ Association in the program’s creation. We will also discuss with the Players’ Association the extent to which this program or another customized program should be presented to the players. Also, under the direction of NHL Executive Vice President Kim Davis, we will form a multidisciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey. The council will also make resources available to help any organization that might reach out for assistance.

3. Inappropriate conduct engaged in by club personnel will be disciplined, either by the team, the League or both. While discipline as always must be on a case-by-case basis – it is my intention that it must be severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again.

4. In that light, the passage of time is not the most effective way to address these situations. Accordingly, we will create a platform – perhaps a hotline – where instances of inappropriate conduct connected to the NHL can be reported either anonymously or for attribution for us to follow up. It can be any team personnel such as a teammate, trainer, or even the player himself. In this regard, we understand the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation – again either anonymously or for attribution – and I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up. My expectation is that this hotline can function like our SABH hotline, which has been credible and effective.

A couple of closing points:

Not everyone will approve of every coach’s methods. However, there are lines that cannot be crossed – clearly physical abuse and racial and homophobic language cross the line. And while we acknowledge that there may be other actions that could cross the line or fall in a gray area, we hope the program we create, and its attendant consciousness-raising will help better define what is and what is not acceptable conduct and will make for a better playing and coaching environment. Over time, we have been able to change the culture of our game as it relates to substance abuse and player safety. And while we have taken many important steps forward on diversity and inclusiveness, as well as respect and professionalism in hockey, we intend to do more and faster.

Calgary’s response initially to Akim Aliu’s allegations and then the Carolina issue, was timely, professional and appropriate. While none of Bill Peters’ inappropriate conduct occurred on the Flames’ watch, they undertook the important effort to try to understand what happened 10 years ago and thereafter. Once Calgary could satisfy itself as to what transpired, they achieved an appropriate result and I commend the Calgary organization and in particular, Brad Treliving, for their efforts and cooperation. I think it is pretty fair to say that from now on when a Club is hiring a coach, the due diligence a team conducts will go to levels never seen before. And, that is a good thing.

Finally, Bill Daly and I had a constructive meeting last week with Akim Aliu and his lawyers. We heard what they had to say, have initiated our own review and will ultimately determine how we believe most appropriate to proceed.

Aliu expects ‘big change’ after meeting with Bettman

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TORONTO — Former NHL forward Akim Aliu expects ”big change” in hockey after a meeting with top league executives Tuesday.

Aliu met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly in Toronto to discuss his allegation that former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters used a racial slur several times during the 2009-10 season while the two were with the Chicago Blackhawks’ top minor league affiliate in Rockford, Illinois.

The Flames investigated Aliu’s claim, and Peters resigned last Friday. Peters apologized to the Flames and general manager Brad Treliving for using ”offensive language” in Rockford.

The NHL has said it is continuing to review the matter.

”It’s been a tough week,” the Nigeria-born Aliu said. ”We had some great discussion with Gary and Bill, who couldn’t have been kinder and (more) receptive to the message we’re trying to bring.

”I think there’s some big change coming, and it’s long overdue. I’m excited to see it come to fruition.”

Bettman and Daly put out a joint statement after the meeting with Aliu.

”We are pleased to have met with Akim Aliu today and had a productive and candid conversation,” the statement said. ”Today’s discussion is part of a broader, thorough review and process that the league is undertaking. We share a mutual objective: ensuring that hockey is an open and inclusive sport at all levels.”

The league said it will have no further comment until after the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting next week in Pebble Beach, California.

Following Aliu’s allegations, others claimed Peters kicked and punched players behind the bench during his recent time with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Calgary’s investigation started last Monday when Aliu wrote on Twitter that Peters ”dropped the N bomb several times towards me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.”

The NHL Coaches’ Association said in a statement Tuesday that ”it is a coach’s job to understand how to best motivate players while respecting them as individuals.”

”Coaching philosophies differ from coach to coach, and season to season, but there are lines that cannot be crossed and there is certainly no room in the NHL, or anywhere else, for abusive behaviour of any kind,” it said.

Marc Crawford on leave from Blackhawks following Sean Avery’s allegations

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The Chicago Blackhawks announced that assistant coach Marc Crawford “will be away from the team” while they investigate “recent allegations that have been made regarding his conduct with another organization.”

To cut through the legalese that’s becoming common as stories of abuse have surfaced (or resurfaced) over the past few weeks, the Blackhawks are referring to Sean Avery’s claims that Crawford kicked him during a Dec. 23, 2006 game stemming from their time with the Los Angeles Kings.

Avery’s details were pretty vivid to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

Avery explained that he messed up a drill during a practice, and his errant puck caught Crawford on the head, forcing Crawford to get stitches. Brooks asked Avery if Crawford then kicked Avery because of the mistake during the drill, but Avery said that it was because of a penalty:

“No, he kicked me after a too-many-men-on-the-ice call I took,” Avery said. “He didn’t have me serve it, we got scored on, and he let me have it.”

“You know how I stand at the end of the bench? He came down and gave me an ass kick that left a mark.”

If you’re familiar with Avery’s career as a profound pest, you’d probably not be too surprised that he believes that the rump-kicking wasn’t what got Avery traded out of town. Instead, Avery stated that he nearly got in a scuffle with an assistant named Mark Hardy.

(The candidness is really worth a read.)

Anyway, Avery’s claims surfaced from Brooks on Nov. 30, and the Blackhawks made this move on Monday (Dec. 2).

Here are the two tweets, again heavy on careful wording:

Allegations surfacing from around the NHL, and hockey world in general

To recap, reports of Mike Babcock asking Mitch Marner to put together a list of the Maple Leafs’ most and least hard-working young players inspired others to share their own experiences.

Akim Aliu spoke up about racist remarks made by Bill Peters about a decade ago, when the two were part of a Blackhawks affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs. Following Aliu’s tweets, Michal Jordan also accused Peters of being physically abusive during their time with the Carolina Hurricanes (claims that were backed up by others, including Rod Brind’Amour). The Flames eventually parted ways with Peters after he offered a carefully worded statement, a statement that was criticized by many, Aliu included.

There’s been a back-and-forth between former Hurricanes owner Peter Karamanos and former Hurricanes GM Ron Francis stemming from how allegations of Peters’ abuse was handled.

Additional details regarding Babcock’s treatment of players have also come about, including troubling details about how Babcock allegedly treated Johan Franzen, both from Franzen and from Chris Chelios.

Former NHL player Daniel Carcillo has also gone into (sometimes graphic) detail about allegations of abuse in the hockey world.

Crawford, then, is another person in a position of power who is being accused of abusive behavior.

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Will this series of accusations (which isn’t comprehensive, and may just be the beginning) result in big changes for the culture around the sport, overall?

Some, such as The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek, believe that this is the start of a “reckoning.” Others, including Jashvina Shah for The Globe & Mail, believe that hockey culture will never change.

Whatever the larger impact might or might not be, we know that Peters is out as Flames head coach, and Crawford is at least on temporary leave from the Blackhawks.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ron Francis says he briefed Hurricanes ownership on Peters incident

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Seattle general manager Ron Francis broke his silence on Saturday and issued a brief statement regarding Bill Peters’ player abuse when they were both with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Shortly after it was revealed that Peters had repeatedly used a racial slur toward former NHL forward Akim Aliu, former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan came forward and accused Peters of kicking him in the back during a game and punching another player in the back of the head.

Current Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour — who was an assistant with the team at the time — said the incidents definitely happened, and that Francis had dealt with them internally. How, exactly, they were dealt with is still unclear as then-Hurricanes owner Peter Karamanos said he would have fired Peters “in a nanosecond” had he known about the incidents.

Francis said in his statement on Saturday that he did brief ownership on the situation.

Francis’ entire statement is as follows:

When I was General Manager in Carolina, after a game, a group of Players and Hockey Staff members made me aware of the physical incidents involving two Players and Bill Peters. I took this matter very seriously.

I took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership.

To my knowledge, no further such incidents occurred.

It would have been inappropriate for me to comment publicly while an active investigation was being conducted by another team. I will not comment on this matter further.

Peters spent four years as the head coach of the Hurricanes, and as noted by the News & Observer‘s Luke DeCock in a scathing article on the Peters-Francis era on Saturday, had his contract extended two different times by Francis even after the abuse incidents took place.

He had been the head coach of the Calgary Flames since the start of the 2017-18 season, a position he held until he resigned on Friday.

It is entirely possible, if not likely, that his NHL career is finished.

But with Francis now in a position to build the yet-to-be-named expansion franchise in Seattle he is still going to have a lot of questions to answer on how he handled the Carolina situation, and why he handled it the way he did.

Related: Peters out as Flames head coach

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.