Unmasking the NHL
Moving through this additional year on top of the two already scheduled to demolish and restore the KeyArena led a new team to worry about losing traction.NHL Seattle tried to maintain its attention through a year-round tease of team name and jersey colors, announcing pre-ticket and sponsor details, recruiting scouts, analytics experts, and revealing that KeyArena’s 44-million-pound roof was being raised over temporary posts to cover what’s below.
But the biggest highlight of the first year of the franchise was the July hiring of Ron Francis as general manager. Yet right now, there’s a shadow over it as Francis is critiqued over his treatment of coach Bill Peters when they were with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Peters was accused of kicking Michal Jordan in the back and hitting another player in the head during the game. But even though players and staff went to Francis about it, he gave Peters a contract extension shortly after July 2016.
Francis, after a few days of silence, made a statement Saturday that he had worked with Peters personally and that the violence never happened again. He also said that he’d “briefed ownership” of it, contradicting former Carolina owner Peter Karmanos telling The Seattle Times last week that he hadn’t been made aware of it and that he’d fired Peters “in a nanosecond.” Adding to the confusion, the NHL seems to have stepped into the mix, given that Francis’ statement was released by the league on its letterhead. Asked about the inconsistency in his interview statements and Francis stating that management was told of the alleged abuse, Karmanos replied on Sunday with what he reads as a NHL press release. He applauded the “spectacular job” that Francis did with the Hurricanes, adding that he was going to do the same thing as the Seattle NHL GM.
Yet Karmanos wondered if Francis had personally informed him, saying that, “His communication skills might be deficient, but he and his staff took decisive and successful action to address Coach Peters.” They might argue whether or not Karmanos had been notified, and whether he should have been more conscious of it. But that doesn’t change the way Francis gives Peters a tacit endorsement of his coaching style by extending his contract.
The media reports from North Carolina were not good.
Sara Civian, the Hurricanes ‘ beat writer for The Athletic, tweeted mid-week that “close relationships spanning decades have been ruined because of Francis’ decision not to fire Peters.” Saturday’s Charlotte Observer columnist Luke DeCock wrote that Peters’s “kid glove handling” by Francis empowered “an abusive coach now exposed as an embarrassing disgrace.” Instead, Peters named Jordan Staal and Justin Faulkunwittingly co-captains to “strengthen the coach’s hold over the dressing room.” “The mystery is why Francis didn’t stop him,” DeCock added. “Why on earth did Francis go along with Peter’s infiltration of the dressing room, neutralizing the influence of Francis’ own free agent in the process?”Good questions, none of them addressed by Francis’ brief statement on Saturday.
It raises the issue of these widespread demands for reform across the hockey world since the Peters debacle last week and the dismissal of Mike Babcock as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs two weeks ago. Namely, how do you cope with shame and second chances for those who have abused or allowed player abuse?
Scores of local hockey enthusiasts tweeted that Babcock was never going to play again when it came out that he once had Mitch Marner, a teenager, rated the teammates ‘ work habits and then circulated the ranking with those at the edge. But many of those fan voices were silent only 24 hours later, when Francis became ensnared in a controversy over Peters committing probably worse offenses.
A former black NHL player, Akim Aliu, accused Peters last Monday of pronouncing a racist epithet against him in minors in 2008-09. One day later, Jordan’s allegations of physical abuse surfaced.
Physical assault and open racism by coaches and sports executives have not been tolerated for decades–see Woody Hayes and Al Campanis–and yet Babcock was still included with Peters last week as part of what is called the NHL’s “me too” movement.
They hear every day that mental abuse can have a serious impact on players, but the sports world has often adopted it as a training tactic. Babcock hasn’t been fired by the Maple Leafs after the Marner incident, or his team’s three playoff eliminations since; he’s been canned once Toronto has stopped winning for a few weeks.
The point is, lumping together everyone’s “me too” style doesn’t bode well for Francis. When Babcock can’t get a job after that because of fan pressure, what’s going to happen to a GM that has expanded the deal to a potentially worse transgressor in Peters.