Blake’s Takes: Peters Out in Calgary After Frequent Player Abuse

For this week’s takes, I dive into the entire Bill Peters saga and why his comments illuminate a growing issue in the NHL. I also comment on a few notable extensions up in Boston and look into a team moving up in the standings.

1. Bill Peters Resigns Over Racial Epithet Scandal

[Photo Credit: NHL]
A bomb was dropped on the hockey world this past week after news broke that the now-former Head Coach of the Calgary Flames, Bill Peters, made disgusting and racist remarks towards one of his former players, Akim Aliu. The incident happened while Aliu was playing with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs during the 2009-10 season in which Peters was the coach. Since the story surfaced, Peters has resigned as the coach of the Flames. There’s quite a lot to unpack with this story, and considering its sensitivity, I’ll do my best to do so with as much detail as possible.

First, a bit about Aliu and the incident itself. Aliu was born in Nigeria and was raised in both Ukraine and Canada. He was drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. This story unfolds during his tenure with the Rockford Icehogs, an AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks, whom Aliu spent parts of 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10 seasons with the Icehogs; the last two with Peters as the coach. He played seven games and scored five points for the Flames over the course of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. He last played with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL last season and is currently a free agent.

The story broke on Monday when Aliu tweeted the following in response to Mike Babcock’s firing:

From there, the media firestorm picked up. By Wednesday, Peters had already issued an apology to Calgary’s GM, Brad Treliving.

The apology did not name Aliu in the apology and only apologized to the Flames organization.

It was then reported that Aliu told TSN that Peters made the following statements to Aliu ten years ago:

“He walked in before a morning pre-game skate and said ‘Hey Akim, I’m sick of you playing that n—– s—,’ ” Aliu told TSN, with Peters, who was then the Ice Hogs head coach, referring to Aliu’s selection of hip-hop music. “He said ‘I’m sick of hearing this n—–s f—— other n—–s in the ass stuff.’

“He then walked out like nothing ever happened. You could hear a pin drop in the room, everything went dead silent. I just sat down in my stall, didn’t say a word.”

After the apology, Aliu issued the following statement:

According to the TSN article written by Frank Seravalli, Aliu’s statements were corroborated by former teammates, Simon Pepin and Peter MacArthur. Peters then called Aliu into his office and said the following:

“You know, I’m just sick of this n—– s—. It’s every day. From now on, we need to play different music.”

The dominoes continued to fall from there. On Tuesday, former Hurricanes defenseman, Michel Jordán,  also accused Peters of abuse while Peters was the Head Coach of the Hurricanes.

Current Hurricanes coach, Rod Brind’Amour, who was an assistant under Peters in Carolina, backed Jordán, saying:

“It for sure happened, the two issues that are in question,”

On Friday, Peters resigned as the Hurricanes Head Coach. He had not been with the team for a few days before he resigned. Geoff Ward was named the interim coach for the Flames.

After the dust settled, we learned that Peters had been abusing players both emotionally and physically over the last ten years, and probably more. We learned that he said terrible and racist things towards players. We ALSO learned that other people knew about it. It goes without saying that Peters is a pile of trash and should be banned from coaching in the NHL forever.

Coaches are supposed to be leaders and should look to set an example for their players. For those coaching in the AHL, where development is the main focus, they should care just as much about improving their players as people than they do as hockey players. Obviously, AHL coaches want to make it to the show too, but the MINIMUM expectation should be that they treat their players professionally and with respect.

Aliu’s case shows us the negative effects this kind of abuse can have. He told TSN in-depth how Peters’ abuse hurt his reputation and said the abuse, “ruined my career before it started.”

Many are asking why Aliu didn’t come forward and why no one stood up for him. Aliu provided some answers to those questions in his conversation with TSN.

“This isn’t me being bitter. I sat on this a really, really long time. It broke my heart, I think it made my career go downhill before it started,” Aliu said. “This isn’t to the degree of Kaepernick by any means, but if you play the race card, it’s most likely the end of your career.”

Aliu said he did not confront Peters at the time of the incident, nor in the private meeting that followed in Peters’ office.

“What am I going to say? I was 20 years old and a first-year pro. I was too scared to speak up,” Aliu said. “I beat myself up every day over it.”

So instead, Aliu admitted that he “turned sour against” Peters in the days and weeks that followed, ultimately leading to his demotion to the ECHL.

Aliu said two or three weeks after the incident, Peters snapped at him during a drill in practice and Aliu responded by saying: “Don’t f—— talk to me” to Peters. Within two hours of practice ending, Aliu says he was demoted to the ECHL.

That’s super important to note for those that don’t understand why these players don’t speak out. These coaches basically have complete control over the players. The players have worked their entire life to make it up to the NHL and they’re so close. The last thing they want is some rift with a coach to prevent them from living their dream. They fear that creating animosity with the coach will lead to less ice-time which obviously hurts their chances of making it to the next level. Essentially, coaches can bury players if they don’t like them.

That is another major problem. There is no avenue for a player to report these issues due to the fear of a coach killing their career. The NHL needs to create some sort of system for players to report this kind of abuse anonymously. Not only that, the league needs to take those reports seriously. Because if they don’t, then players won’t report them and nothing will be solved. The players need to be protected, especially those in the lower ranks of the minors that don’t have the same platform to speak out as NHL players do. This should also apply to all youth players.

I applaud the Calgary Flames for how they handled this situation. I think they knew Peters was a dead duck the second this news broke. So, firing him would be easy. But, they still did their due diligence and started an investigation. Treliving said the following to ESPN:

“It’s been a difficult time, but we’re going to move forward,” Treliving said Friday.

Treliving said he spoke with Aliu as part of his probe.

“This investigation we’re doing, I know everyone wants this done immediately and the world we live in is immediate,” Treliving told reporters Wednesday night. “I hope you can appreciate we’re trying to do everything we possibly can to make sure we get it right and get all the information that needs to be gotten.”

I really like what Treliving said. In the social media age, everyone wants justice now. And if they don’t get the punishment they want immediately, they will serve it in the court of public opinion. As a political theory student, I strongly believe in due process. In this situation, the evidence was pretty damning against Peters, so the public backlash was warranted. Still, I credit the Flames here for doing their due diligence and not rushing their process.

Thankfully, it seems the court of public opinion has essentially banned Peters for life. Hopefully, the league will follow suit. But, there are still a few issues that need to be sorted out. The first few issues deal with the league. The NHL has still yet to come down with any sort of punishment or change. I mentioned a few suggestions for them earlier. However, this is something I will be watching closely.

The other big issue in this story is the status of Ron Francis. Francis is the current GM of the new Seattle franchise. He was also the GM of the Hurricanes while Peters was the coach. Many have suggested that he was aware of Peters’ conduct. At the moment, it seems as Francis dealt with these issues himself as then-Hurricanes owner, Peter Karmanos, publicly stated he had no knowledge of the situation. This is another story I will be watching closely.

Overall, the NHL and the people that make up the league need to be more inclusive and more proactive when it comes to protecting the players, especially those that are minorities. If hockey is supposed to be for everyone, this is a great place for the league to prove it.

2. Bruins Lock Coyle and Wagner to Extensions

Last week, the Bruins announced that they signed forwards Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner to extensions. Coyle’s deal was for six years and will pay him a $5.25 million AAV. Wagner’s deal will pay him a $1.35 million AAV over three years. So far this season, the Bruins sit in first in the Atlantic Division and are two points behind Washington for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

I think this is a fine deal for Coyle and probably what he would have netted as a UFA.  The 27-year-old is enjoying a solid season with 14 points in 26 games. He broke out in the playoffs last year after being traded from Minnesota with 16 points in 24 games. If Coyle can produce in the 50-60 points range for the duration of his contract, he will be worth the money.

For Wagner, the 28-year-old has scored five points in 25 games this year. He doesn’t enjoy as much ice-time as his teammates, but, he does play a great physical game and leads the team in hits with 54. I like when teams sign players like Wagner, fourth-line guys, to extensions. He really fits what the team is trying to do and was rewarded for it.

My only concern is what this does to the Bruins cap next season. The Bruins’ cap will see a bump of $2.15 million between the two players. That’s not a lot. But, Boston has a slew if RFAs they might want to sign to extensions over the summer, including Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk. Let’s not forget that Torey Krug will hit the open market as a UFA and will surely command between a $7 million-plus AAV. If Boston can still get all of their core players signed without the Coyle and Wagner extensions hampering them, they should be fine and competing for Stanley Cups for the foreseeable future.

3. Burakovsky Stays Hot

This past summer, I wrote about the trade that sent Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals to the Colorado Avalanche. At the time, Burakovsky looked to be a solid depth forward with the potential to break out. So far this season, he’s done just that.

The 24-year-old has scored 11 goals and helped on 10 others in 24 games this season. He’s currently on pace to finish with the following stat-line, 37-33-70. Obviously, that pace will be tough to sustain. Still, that would shatter his former career highs of 17-23-38.

With Burakovsky playing like this, the Avalanche have become arguably the most fun team in the league to watch with their plethora of blazing, young players. I’m excited to see if Burakovsky can keep up this pace and help the Avs make a deep run into the playoffs.

4. The Stars Turn it On

The Dallas Stars have been one of the more interesting teams over the last 12 months or so. They have two of the best players in the league, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. They have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Ben Bishop. Lastly, they have some budding young superstars in Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz. Yet, they still haven’t been able to compete with the titans in the west.

At the beginning of the season, it looked like this would be a year to forget for Dallas fans. But, the Stars have turned it on as of late. The Stars are 7-2-1 over their last ten games and have moved into the first Wild Card spot in the West. They’ve outscored their opponents 32-23 over their last ten games.

It’s been their defense that has led to their turnaround. The Stars are third in the league in goals allowed per game with a 2.37 mark. They’ve allowed 2.30 goals per game over their last ten. The Bruins are currently first in the league in goals allowed per game, with a 2.31 mark. For a team known for their offensive firepower, a dominant defense could take them a long way if Benn and Seguin take their game to the level we’re used to.

5. Marchand Rips Concussion Spotter

Brad Marchand [Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky]
In the second period of Friday’s game between the Bruins and the Rangers, New York’s Jacob Trouba laid a hit on Boston’s Brad Marchand. Marchand looked a bit dazed after the hit. However, he was not pulled from the game by the concussion spotter until after the third period had started.  The job of the concussion spotter is to watch for players that may have suffered a concussion. If they sense a player has suffered a concussion, they have said player removed from the game to undergo tests. If the player is cleared of a concussion, he may return to the game.

Marchand and the Bruins were upset because he suffered the hit during the second period, yet was pulled from the game during the third period, and was not evaluated during the intermission.

After the game, Marchand aired his frustrations with the spotter:

“That’s embarrassing,” Marchand told reporters. “Guy’s up there busy eating pizzas and cheeseburgers and can’t watch the game. Maybe next time, he’ll pull his head out of his butt and watch the game.”

Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy did as well:

“This game’s on NBC,” he told reporters. “He gets hit at the end of the second period, and they pull him at the start of the third. To me, we’re trying to market our best players. I thought it was fairly evident when he got hit, and they decided to do it at the start of the third. I don’t know why they wouldn’t do it between periods. There’s an 18-minute intermission.

“I didn’t like the timing of it at all.”

First, as much as I hate Marchand when he’s playing my team, he’s hysterical. The gall to straight-up question that spotters entire job is legendary. Obviously, it doesn’t’ look good for the league and adds to Marchand’s already questionable reputation. But, Marchand and Cassidy have a point here. Why not evaluate Marchand in between periods, rather than pull him during the third? Thankfully, Marchand is okay and hopefully, he gives us a few more notable quips before the season ends. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

 

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