In just a matter of a couple of weeks, the NHL has had to deal with a number of high-profile incidents dealing with coaches and reported player abuse. The latest came yesterday when the NHL’s Dallas Stars dropped the ax on coach Jim Montgomery, but his may not have been the most egregious of errors. We will probably never know since the Stars don’t want to comment on exactly what happened, but it’s apparent the league needs a time-out to resolve a few issues.
NHL Coach Jim Montgomery Fired By Stars
Stars GM Jim Nill broke the news in a press statement yesterday, explaining, “The Dallas Stars expect all of our employees to act with integrity and exhibit professional behavior while working for and representing our organization. This decision was made due to unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.” Prodded for more details in a NHL news conference held later, he would only say that Montgomery was guilty of a “material act of unprofessionalism.”
Things apparently started falling apart over the weekend and, on Sunday, team executives got together with their legal advisers to decide what course of action was necessary. While Stars players were surprised, Montgomery’s firing appears to have been the only viable course of action for the NHL and Stars.
Stepping in for the meantime will be the team’s assistant coach, Rick Bowness. The head coach of the Texas Stars of the AHL, Derek Laxdal has joined the star, with Texas Stars assistant coach Neil Graham taking his place with the team. Bowness commented on the firing, stating, “It’s a shock, and we’re going to have to deal with it. The cold reality of it is that we have a game to play tonight. But we’re professionals and this is what we signed up for.”
It takes a lot for a coach to have to be fired, but several recent controversies could have made the decision easier. The head coach of the Calgary Flames, Bill Peters, was forced to resign after two players spoke out about possible abuse they had received under him. Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford was placed on administrative leave after claims surfaced that he had abused players, as well.
Mike Babcock, the former head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was also fired by the team earlier this year, also for alleged abuse against players. As a result of the flurry of negative activity, the league has already begun to make policy changes that are designed to shore up confidence in the NHL and to provide better protection to players and staff.
In the annual meeting of the NHL’s board of governors, the league laid out plans to implement a platform that will allow whistleblowers to easily report suspect activity without being named. In the case of Peters and Crawford, the players who came forward revealed that the abuse had occurred years earlier, but that they had been too afraid to speak out, concerned that they might lose their spots in the league if they did.
The NHL will also be putting together an annual diversity and inclusion training program that will be mandatory for all team coaches, minor league coaches under contract, GMs and assistant GMs. The program will be put together with assistance from outside professionals, along with the NHL Players Association and the NHL Coaches Association.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman explained in making the announcement, “Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind.” He added, “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 league policies, either [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly or me must be immediately advised.”