It has been a whirlwind few weeks in the NHL coaching ranks. After the Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock back on November 20, several former players used the opportunity to criticize the veteran coach’s tactics and the way he treated some of his players. Former NHLer Akim Aliu used these comments as a jumping off point to make his own accusations of mistreatment against former AHL coach and then-Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters. Aliu’s recollection of racists epithets from Peters while with AHL Rockford were also echoed by stories of physical abuse from former players of Peters with the Carolina Hurricanes and confirmed by current Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’amour. Peters ended up resigning last week. The latest coach to be exposed is Chicago Blackhawks assistant Marc Crawford, who faces allegations of physical abuse from some of his former players with the Los Angeles Kings. Crawford has left the team temporarily while under investigation.
The behavior of coaches has been brought to the forefront of NHL headlines and is not going to be a conversation that disappears quickly. In fact, the NHL Coaches’ Association – which ironically includes Babcock and Peters as executive members – addressed these ongoing issues with a statement earlier today:
We believe the NHL is a league built on hard work, respect, and teamwork. It is a coach’s job to understand how best to motivate players while respecting them as individuals and valuing them as people. 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 behavior of any kind… The NHLCA is committed to working with the NHL and NHLPA to ensure respectful working environments for everyone.
TSN’s Darren Dreger adds that coach behavior will be the biggest topic of conversation among NHL owners at the upcoming Board of Governors meeting in California next week. He believes that coach behavior has never been scrutinized to this extent and that these meetings could produce a substantive change to how coaches are governed by the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman has already met with Aliu, who came away from the meeting with a positive reaction and a feeling that changes are coming. One possible shift, suggested by Dreger’s colleague Bob McKenzie, is enhanced vetting when hiring coaches and deeper background checks, including interviews with former players and assistants. One way or another, these incidences and allegations have made clear that there has been an ongoing issue related to coach behavior in the NHL that has flown under the radar but now must be addressed.