When I started writing about the Carolina Hurricanes many years ago, it was purely as a hobby and a way to channel my love for Carolina Hurricanes hockey which is a leisure activity. That bumped to a higher level but did not change much when I launched Canes and Coffee four years ago. I recognize that I have an obligation as a public site to maintain a level of integrity and decency, but at the same time I am not obligated to report on all things Canes. There are people who have a different level of responsibility because they get paid to do it. In that regard, I feel no guilt in sometimes taking a pass on some topics usually just because it is just not personally interesting to me but occasionally because it is not a fun topic to handle.
But at the same time having even a small outlet and audience, I feel like it would completely irresponsible to walk past today’s NHL news. The domino effect that somehow started with Mike Babcock, stretched to Bill Peters, pulled in the Carolina Hurricanes organization and puts a spotlight on the entire NHL and hockey world and its culture in my opinion is something that must be addressed.
Since I think most people are aware of what transpired quickly between Monday night and Tuesday evening, I will not recap all of the details. TSN’s account of the situation is HERE.
First and foremost — Racism and discrimination in any form is wrong
At the point where Bill Peters was accused of using the N-word toward a black player and that accusation was corroborated by two other players who witnessed it, I think this is racism and is wrong in a perfectly black and white kind of way. I think trying to soften that by talking about context or putting it under ‘old school coaching’ or anything else is a huge step in the wrong direction. It is wrong – period, and I think it needs to be addressed as such. Saying that is okay or maybe not that bad because of culture, context, timing or anything else for me is saying that it can be okay in certain situations. I disagree 100 percent with that. I believe as a hockey community that we need to address situations like this head on and root it out.
My first Tweet about the situation mid-day on Tuesday which I think trumps everything else that follows was:
Since it is on topic in our hockey world today, racism and/or discrimination in any form is wrong and should not be tolerated in the NHL or elsewhere.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) November 26, 2019
I will go on to discuss other things and also pull in more direct Carolina Hurricanes ramifications especially related to the second shoe to drop with Michal Jordan’s also validated accusations (see below). But I think it is incredibly important to do a hard stop and recognize that this top line issue trumps ‘hockey’ considerations X 100.
The second shoe drops and lands in Raleigh
Maybe 12 hours after the initial Tweet by Akim Aliu accusing Peters of the racist comments, a second shoe dropped when former Canes defenseman Michal Jordan also took to Twitter to say that Bill Peters had kicked him on the bench and also punched another player in the head. Those accusations were also confirmed quickly by other sources.
I think the initial Bill Peters news was received almost with a positive vindictiveness in the Hurricanes hockey community since the Canes fan base had soured on Peters prior to his departure.
But what maybe was missed at first by some was how this second confirmed allegation suddenly put the entire Carolina Hurricanes organization under the microscope when Jordan said that “the trainers and other guys saw it” as stated in a Tweet by Frank Seravalli at TSN Sports. At that point, Peters instantly became a bigger villain, but it also raised the question of who in the Hurricanes organization knew about this and to what degree they did or did not do something to put a stop to it.
As of starting to write this at 9:30pm on Tuesday, the Hurricanes organization has not issued a statement but in my opinion is now on the clock.
The Hurricanes’ role
At the point where Michal Jordan reported being kicked by Bill Peters and importantly that the trainers and other people knew about it, this very much became a Hurricanes’ problem. Yes, Bill Peters will most assuredly end up at the top of the evil, bad guy list when the dust settles. By in the case of a bad actor, management who is aware also has a responsibility to take action to put an end to it.
Then the situation went a layer deeper into the Hurricanes organization when a Tweet from Mark Armstrong from ABC-11, said that a Hurricanes source said that a leadership group at the time and other staff members made Ron Francis aware of their concerns about Bill Peters conduct. At this point some amount of responsibility extended past Bill Peters and deeper into the Hurricanes organization. Ron Francis is obviously gone as are some of the coaches, but maybe most significantly Rod Brind’Amour was an assistant coach for the entirety of Bill Peters’ tenure with the Hurricanes.
And at least as far as what has been reported so far, that murky position is where we are currently.
The need for an honest assessment without exemptions
The ball is now in the court of the team and to some degree the local media to figure out what exactly happened, who knew what and who bears what responsibility for Peters’ abusive actions while coaching the Hurricanes.
Because it is not known exactly who knew about the incidents and who reported it to Francis, it is impossible to say yet who is at fault and to what degree for being an enabler. And because Francis could theoretically have also been overruled on taking action on Peters, his role is also unclear.
But make no mistake that there are people who know the details of the situation. Given that many of the parties are no longer with the Hurricanes organization, I think it could be fair that it takes a bit of time to collect and verify details versus going knee-jerk reaction on minimal facts. But if after a short period of time the Hurricanes formal response (or non-response) is to pretend like nothing happened and not putting forth details, I see that as further being an enabler for the wrong that occurred and equally significantly future wrong that comes from a culture that protects and hides guilty parties.
Picking out bad apples versus reworking the entire apple cart
I really think the current situation can be a fork in the road to some degree for the team but more significantly for the entire NHL. On Twitter after some time to digest at least the initial rounds of information, I said:
The fork in the road for today's NHL news is whether the couple apples publicly identified as bad get discarded and then the cart quickly rolls away or if this is big enough to upset the entire apple cart.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) November 26, 2019
Historically, the NHL has managed similar situations into being isolated incidents. A couple bad actors were singled out and (at least to some degree) faced punishment for their actions. But my opinion anyway is that the actions leaned drastically toward damage control in a public relations way and away from a concerted effort to do what was necessary to root out the problem. Essentially, a couple bad apples were singled out and addressed, but the apple cart mostly just continued on the same path.
What should be under siege but has not been so far is the culture that for whatever reason makes it possible for things like this to happen and for perpetrators to just continue working in organized hockey for years.
So past all of the details swirling around, I am watching closely right now to get a sense of whether the NHL seems to be again making quick work of doing damage control and moving on or if instead there is some inclination that a greater effort will be made to chart a new course.
The hard road
I think as much as anything the fork in the road comes down to two things. The first is creating a more open environment that is conducive to whatever skeletons are out there being unearthed. Significantly, both Akium Aliu and Michal Jordan were comfortable airing their grievances only after they were past working to build an NHL career. That suggests that the league and the current environment are likely not conducive to similar stories reaching the surface. Second, the league and hockey community must be willing to assign deserved blame without consideration for participants’ standing within the game. That is to say that the assignment of blame and consideration for possible culprits cannot in any way be affected by people’s standing in the hockey world.
With Ron Francis we are already seeing suggestions that there are mitigating circumstances that make him either not a culprit or at least less so. Again, the full details are not yet revealed. If in fact Ron Francis was unable to take action against Bill Peters because of owner Peter Karmanos, then I think that completely minimizes his level of responsibility. But if Francis was aware of Peters’ actions as reported, had the authority to do something and did not, then he needs to be held fully accountable. There cannot be discounts on accountability and blame because he is generally a good guy, he has positives too, he is doing different in Seattle or more simply because our hockey community does not want to hate heroes.
And in a more frightening vein that literally makes me shudder, Brind’Amour’s role if any in the situation must be considered. My read on Rod Brind’Amour from watching him on and off the ice for nearly 20 years is that he is a better person than this. His relationship and affirmation from the players also suggests that he would be above this. So if I was a betting man, I would bet heavily that Brind’Amour either was unaware or did the right thing. But here’s the thing…For something as serious as this, we cannot just choose to absolve people of wrongdoing because it would hurt so much to find out they were in fact complicit. Diligence is necessary in both building cases against those we are happy to see implicated but equally so in making sure that others in the vicinity of the situation are truly innocent.
From a fan standpoint, I am now set to be restless and uptight about this whole situation from an incredibly selfish viewpoint until I learn that Rod Brind’Amour is not part of the group that enabled this in Raleigh. Again, when I step through everything that I know about Brind’Amour as a person, I feel as confident as I can that he will not ultimately be pulled into this. But at the same time, no one can be granted an exemption, and if I am wrong and he does turn out to be part of the problem, I want to know despite how much it will wreck me.
The local media
At a local level, the local beat reporters have an obligation to help uncover what exactly happened and who participated. As a assistant coach under Bill Peters, I think it is both fair and necessary to ask Rod Brind’Amour if he was aware of the events Michal Jordan mentioned. And I also think it is fair and necessary to ask Brind’Amour what he did about about it if he did in fact know. Those questions should not be asked in accusatory way. Brind’Amour has not been implicated, and it seems likely that will still be the case when the facts emerge. But as hard as it will be, those questions should be asked. For the most part, any hard-hitting coverage of the Canes (often wrongfully) has come from outside of North Carolina. Will the local media have the gumption to ask hard questions in public and push for real answers? Will they do some behind the scenes work to build the factual story themselves if the team is not forthright with specifics?
The broader NHL media
More so at a national level is where I become skeptical about the fork in the road that I mentioned above. Ideally, something like this opens the door for openness and for however many skeletons there are to unearth to be unearthed. If this happens, my fear as a hockey fan is that it will be absolutely brutal what we learn. But if that is what is necessary to make a change for the right or the sport we love, it must be endured. Trying to find a softer landing is disrespectful to everyone who has been wronged by elements of toxicity build into hockey’s culture.
But I fear that the group most capable of helping drive the openness or a true cleansing is to a lesser degree an accomplice and enabler. And largely the leading media that cover the NHL are long-timers who have indirectly been part of the club. Go browse the list of the leading reporters from The Athletic, TSN and other prime NHL media outlets. So many of the group are veterans with 10, 20 or even more years of experience as an insider. Based on that, there seems to be a massive mismatch between the rumblings and understandings for some of the ills that have existed and still exist and how many stories we see written about the same. Every time one of these things is reported, there seem to be a number of media who immediately say they have something to contribute that they did not previously report before because…uhh…well…ummm…I didn’t have enough evidence or whatever. Significant in the events over the past couple days is that the genesis of the current fire storm was not a member of the media uncovering or reporting something. The genesis was a couple of former players taking to Twitter. What does that say about what these players think of the media as a channel for this? Anecdotally, the few times we have seen similar grievances aired in the media, it has often been from foreign media sources back in a players’ home country far away from the mainstream NHL media.
If there are problems with the culture and more skeletons to be unearthed, I am skeptical that the long-time NHL media club is the right group to help with this. That group should either already have much of this information or be capable of getting it if they cared to. But even if not formally part of the organization, they have working relationships with the organizations and teams and also the individuals who seem to just cycle around the NHL in different roles.
If and when the flood gates ever open, what are the chances that the long-time media will increasingly look like indirect enablers too?
Rewriting Hurricanes history
Again, the problem is by far the most important part of this story, but an incredibly interesting side note is how dramatically this is rewriting Hurricanes history since the Tom Dundon era began. The same long-time media who are at least indirectly part of broader NHL hockey have been incredibly critical of Tom Dundon at every step of the way since he took ownership of the team.
Dundon took heat for his handling of the Ron Francis situation and his ultimate dismissal.
He caught a ton of flack for stepping well below his level and micromanaging in interacting directly with the players and doing exit interviews four months after taking over the team.
He caught a ton of skepticism when after looking externally, he instead chose to make Rod Brind’Amour a first-time head coach.
And more generally, Dundon has been criticized to the point of being ridiculed for deviating from the seeming NHL code book to do things differently.
Depending partly on how the chips fall with Bill Peters and who knew/did what in the Hurricanes organization, this recent news has the potential to massively alter the interpretation of what Dundon was doing and why.
What say you Canes fans?
To be completely honest, I am fearful of what we might get on Wednesday when this topic is open for debate. I much prefer to debate line combinations, prospects’ potential and other on-ice matters that are the fun of the sport for me. But as a small part of the broader hockey community, I think dialogue even if people disagree, is a small step in the right direction to improving our sport.