Sticks, stones and due process: Bowers and Khabibulin

DENVER - NOVEMBER 08:  Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin #35 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on during a break in the action against the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on November 8, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 5-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

If actions speak louder than words, how come Brent Bowers is out of a job as manager of the Edmonton Capitals and, as of today, Nikolai Khabibulin, who faces a charge of extreme DUI, is a member in good standing with the Edmonton Oilers?

The answer, of course, in the ongoing case of Khabibulin is due process, for starters, and the assumption of innocence until an accused is proven guilty. Two pretty fundamental and important reasons right off the hop. It’s a rhetorical question, really.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition, though, that Bowers is out the door on his ear in a hurry — he resigned — after uttering anti-gay slurs during a Golcen Golden League Baseball game between the Capitals and Orange County Flyers while Khabibulin awaits due process on his DUI.

Patrick LaForge, Oilers president and governor of the Capitals, who are also owned by Daryl Katz, rightfully called the loutish tirade by Bowers "unacceptable" and accepted his resignation.

I can only assume we’ll have to wait until after Khabibulin’s trial for an official reaction from the Oilers on the acceptability of Khabibulin’s alleged conduct.


Here’s the entire account of the Bowers incident from reporter Jennifer Fong in Sunday’s Edmonton Journal.

"The Edmonton Capitals announced Saturday that manager Brent Bowers has resigned following allegations he went on a homophobic tirade during a recent game in California.

"Unfortunately, Brent’s activities in our terms went beyond what’s acceptable," said Capitals Governor Patrick LaForge.

There have been media reports that Bowers called Golden Baseball League umpire Billy Van Raaphorst “a f—ing faggot,” and screamed profanities during a July 31 game between the Capitals and the Orange County Flyers in Fullerton, Calif.

During a news conference Saturday afternoon, LaForge said he had read Van Raaphorst’s report on the incident, but LaForge did not describe the nature of the field manager’s outburst or what exactly was said. He said there was "no physical contact that we know of" involved.

"What we’ve read from the report is just unacceptable for umpires, unacceptable activity to be watched or heard by our fans in pro sport," said LaForge. “Certainly, Mr. Bowers is completely, completely emotional and distraught about what had happened, that it came out of his mouth, and it certainly puts a tarnish on an otherwise pretty clean career. Nonetheless, it’s an unacceptable incident."

The Golden Baseball League suspended Bowers for the remainder of the season Friday after completing an investigation into the incident.

"We support the Golden Baseball League in their decision to suspend him for the balance of the season and we further support Brent’s decision to resign," said LaForge, who noted the Capitals did not ask Bowers to resign. “I think he got it out of his mouth before we asked … he took it upon himself to resign."

Gordon Gerlach, Director of Baseball Operations and Hitting Coach, will take over Bowers’ duties for the rest of the season.

LaForge said the Edmonton Oilers organization, which the Capitals is a part of, is now looking into conducting cultural diversity training with members of both its baseball and hockey arms."


Khabibulin, meanwhile, certainly has a right to due process and the assumption that he’s innocent until proven guilty. I’m wondering, though, if we’ll hear a similar condemnation from the Oilers, should Khabibulin be convicted of what he’s charged with.

Most of the buzz surrounding Khabibulin in these parts is centred around whether the Oilers can or should attempt to have his contract voided, if he’s found guilty. If convicted on the extreme DUI charge, Khabibulin is looking at a minimum of 30 days in jail.

Could the Oilers seek to have Khabibulin’s contract voided? Yes. Would that send the NHLPA and legions of lawyers into action? You think? Should the Oilers pursue the possibility, faint as it might be? People far more learned than I on these matters can have at that debate.

I just want to know this much: if Khabibulin is convicted, will anybody from Oilers management stand up, look him in the eye and tell him — whether they have to pay him and play him or not — what he did, at the very least, is "unacceptable?"

We’ll see.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    If Bowers got caught with a DUI, he wouldn’t be fired right away, LaForge wouldn’t call him out and there would be no basis for this article.

    If Nikolai Khabibulin threw some homophobic insults at the ref after a game, he’d probably get into a world of trouble with the team and the league.

    Whether you agree with that standard or not, there’s no contradiction here.

    • I’m not saying there is a contradiction. This is just one of those situations that makes you ponder how we react to situations.

      And, as I said at the end, if Khabibulin is convicted, will the Oilers publicly declare his actions as unacceptable, like they did the words of somebody further down the food chain?

      • Mike from Canmore's illegitimate love child

        Unfortunately I think there will be a contradiction, mainly because they are all making considerately more money than people in minor pro sports. Also Tambo has being covering his ass ever since he signed Khabibulin, he would rather use bad luck as an excuse for his injury, not the fact Nik was already worn down and had problems with injuries, or the fact Quinn rode the hell out of him.

        I think its sad in so many ways, and setting an absolute horrid example for young people if the oilers don’t deem his actions completely unacceptable. Khabibulin should not only serve jail time, but also apologize and be forced to donate a substantial amount of money to MADD or another charitable organization. I have a feeling I might lose a lot of respect for the Oilers once this case is over and done with. Hopefully I am wrong.

    • Ducey

      I don’t for one second believe that Laforge would be as tough on Khabby if that was the case. It’s pretty easy to act tough against a no name employee in a pretty low profile two-bit league in order to make a very public holier than thou, politically correct statement and example. I don’t condone Bower’s actions but I just don’t believe Laforge would’ve treated Khabby or any marquee member of the Oilers the same. I just call it like I see it.

  • Jamie B.

    Considering Avery was suspended for his sloppy seconds comment and no hockey player to my knowledge has faced recent discipline for a DUI, I’m inclined to agree with Mark-Ryan. I’m not saying that’s right, but it seems to be the way it goes. Sometimes I wish the NHL had a personal conduct policy like the NFL does.

    • Petr's Jofa

      Yes, I believe that in the next CBA that personal conduct policy could be on its way. Traditionally hockey players have been pretty squeeky clean when compared with the thuggish and gang related conduct of the NBA and NFL players, but the NHL is starting to slip that way too. DUI should equal automatic suspension. Unacceptable is right.

    • book¡e

      Happy to answer that one for you. Someone very close to me was killed by a drunk trucker fourteen years ago. Even prior to that, I had no respect for people who choose to drive drunk. After that, my opinion is probably too biased to really share, but to put it bluntly, I wish every drunk driver out there would find a nice tree or cliff for themselves.

      What bothers me the most about it is how forgiving so many people have been (in other comment sessions) using phrases like “he made a mistake” or “who are you to judge”. Really, by that measure, I guess all criminals are just people who make mistakes and they should probably not be judged. I don’t stab people and I don’t drive drunk or do anything remotely as stupid so I am fine with ‘judging’. I do make mistakes and it’s quite possible that I may kill someone by accident, but its far less likely than it was for Khabibulin when he was driving and speeding at 0.16. Life is full of risk and the risk Khabibulin took was far beyond what I consider acceptable behaviour.

      If Khabibulin has great remorse for what he did and never drives drunk again, then he can earn back some of the respect he lost. I actually wish him the best of luck in doing so. However, if it were up to me, people like that would not see the road ever again. Far too many people who murder other people by driving drunk behind the wheel are on their 2nd+ offence. I would rather see 10000 drunk drivers lose their licence for life than I would see an innocent person injured or killed. I imagine that if I were to look at the same situation more objectively as a policy maker or an economist, I might not agree with that. As I said though, this is an issue that I am biased on.

      At least it looks like Khabi will have to spend a month in a tent – I am fine with that. Living in a similar manner to what our soldiers go through for a month is ok with me (though not enough).

      I have to say though, the comments made thus far on this post have been really well thought out. Its true, this was off duty and as a result, its different. Also, Khabi will be punished by the court system, so should he also be punished by the team? Fair question.

      With that said, I think that driving drunk is as bad as running dog fights. Let him go play in the KHL.

    • fuck off

      These lesser issues are not going to be of the same hefty legal application like entering into a salary cap and sorting out all of the issues involved with taking on such a grand task. Code on conduct could be simple and succinct. Adding contract limitations are minor details that are derailing the greater picture (circumventing the cap) and thus easy to resolve.

      With the enlighten of how much profit was lost due to the infamous lock out for both the NHL and NHLPA; I’m sure all involved are more than willing to settle lesser matters for the greater cause: the next Million dollar bonus cheque.

  • I don’t recall J-Bo being suspended by the NHL and he almost hit a police officer when he was caught DUI. A police officer saw him sverving back and forth. Was there any report if Khabbi did this. From what I recall, Khabbi was pulled over for speeding and not for DUI.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    Robin you bring up a good point and Menacer really makes it hit home.

    Seriously, is calling someone a fa**ot worse than driving drunk? Depends on the circumstances but for the most part no.

  • Ducey

    This is indeed a conundrum. It is completely unacceptable for any public figure to spew hateful, or gay bashing remarks in this day and age. I work for an international corporation and would be terminated immediately for that type of conduct. Strange though, there is no language in the document that deals with impaired driving or other criminal offences incurred in one’s personal life.
    Perhaps this is where the line is drawn – Bowers was acting in a professional capacity, representing the organization, where Khabi was on personal time away from the organization.
    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not cutting Khabi an inch of slack, he could have wiped out a schoolbus full of kids, and should come forward publicly when his trial is complete and become the posterboy for MADD.

  • Ducey

    I think the biggest difference between the two cases is that one incident happened while on work hours and the other didn’t.
    If I was caught drinking and driving during non work hours I don’t believe my bosses would fire me based solely on that. If it affected my work because of the outcome (losing the ability to drive) then I can see getting fired.
    Obviously if I were drinking and driving while at work, I’d be fired as I should be.
    I’d say the question is: What should/will the Oilers do regarding the outcome of the sentencing, if in fact it does go against the terms of his contract. Regarding the crime itself, I’m sure if he’s guilty the oilers would just issue a press release saying they don’t like that it happened.

  • Mitch

    If Taylor Hall or one of the other star players got caught with a dui, the oilers wouldn’t void the contract. Therefore Khabi contract shouldn’t be voided.

    Dany Heatley killed a teammate driving like a idiot, and didn’t get his contract voided. The NHL must put rules and laws in place that are unforgiving without a doubt. It shouldn’t matter though just because Khabi got caught doesn’t mean you void the contract because the fans don’t like that he’s a old goalie with injury problems signed to a bad deal.

  • Rob...

    Does anything change if Khabibulin admits to an addiction? How does this compare to Fuhr, who was traded at the end of the season after coming back from rehab?

  • striatic

    the major difference is that if the Captials hadn’t reacted by suspending or firing Bowers, he would have gotten away with no repercussions.

    if Khabibulin is found guilty and sentenced, he’ll be facing the repercussions for his actions. there’s no need for the Oilers to further punish him.

  • Slapshot

    Bowers going on a rant and saying all those crazy things to the umpire was not acceptable, his suspension and subsequent termination from the Capitals was fair,Khabibulin getting a extreme DUI is going to do time, if convicted and so he should,there is no excuse for driving drunk, he should have called a cab.I guess we will just wait and see what type of double standard there is within the Katz sports empire if Khabibulin gets charged.

  • Jeff

    I think we can get a pretty good idea of what the Oilers official reaction will be once the trial is over, based on what Olczyk had to say the other day.

    He’s a great person, he’s made a mistake and he’s going to learn from it. He’s a better person than he was six months ago.

    Mistake? Yes. Unacceptable? I doubt it.

  • Slapshot

    I have a question, has there ever been an active player who has been jailed during pre or regular season play for a DUI or Speeding? I’ve been googling (before someone berates me for not doing so) and I’ve not stumbled across a conviction with jail time. Jail time is going to be the kicker if the Oilers want to even consider voiding Khabi’s contract (Which I truly don’t think they want to do).

    If Dany Heatly can walk away from second-degree vehicular homicide with 3 years probation and still have a career in the NHL, then I highly doubt Khabi is going to get jail time for speeding and DUI. He will do what most celebrities or professional athletes do, plea bargin down to a lesser charge and take probation and community service.

    Is it right? Nope.
    Is is fair? Nope.
    Does it suck? Yep.

    • If Dany Heatly can walk away from second-degree vehicular homicide with 3 years probation and still have a career in the NHL, then I highly doubt Khabi is going to get jail time for speeding and DUI.

      People seem to overreact to the word homicide in the charges against Heatley. Any accident that involves an illegal act and results in death is a second degree vehicular homicide. Heatley wasn’t even drunk, he was just driving to fast. The maximum penalty for the charge is one year.

      Is there a single person here who hasn’t driven too fast at some point in their life? At the age Heatley was pretty much everyone I knew drove too fast every day. They just didn’t end up in accidents that killed somebody.

      It was a case of the result of the incident driving the consequences. If Snyder didn’t die then Heatley would have gotten nothing more than speeding and maybe driving too fast for condition.

      Personally I think driving too fast is irresponsible and dangerous, but not as inherently reckless as drinking and driving. If Khabibulin killed somebody he would be much worse off than Heatley was, and rightly so.

    • Slapshot

      I suspect you’re right.

      I’d just like to see management take the same approach with a high profile member of the organization that they did with Bowers, even if actual “punishment” begins and ends with what’s called for in the state of Arizona.

      In my mind, that would start with a statement from the team upon conviction that driving impaired is unacceptable and include a public apology and statement from Khabibulin — something beyond, “I made a mistake.”

      Then, move on.

      • Crackenbury

        The Same approach isn’t called for here. Bowers was acting in his official capacity as an employee and senior representative of the organization when his incident took place. Khabibulin was out of town in the off-season acting solely on his own. It’s appropriate the Oilers display some sort of disapproval of his action publicly but not to the same extent as Bowers.

        Edit: khabibulin’s season was over, but hockey was still being played. Doesn’t change anything.

        • Khabibulin was not really out of town for the off season, this happened during the season… when he was supost to be recovering from the injury that ended his season. I think that fact has to play a part in Oilers fans feeling like they were slapped in the face since the guy should have been laying low trying to get healthy so he could help the organization, not out getting drunk joy riding in his ferreri .

          • Crackenbury

            You’re right. His season was over, but the regular season was still on. I’m not trying to condone his behavior, but there is a significant difference between Bower’s incident, which occurred as part of his job as an employee of the organization and khabibulin’s. An employer has a right to expect it’s employees to conduct themselves in a professional manner when representing the organization in performing their duties. Reprimanding or terminating guys because of personal issues is another story. Of course, if khabibulin’s legal issue causes problems with his employment with the Oilers they are entitled to address that.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    If you’re a relatively low-paid member of any high profile organization, and you have little or no means to intimidate your employer from a litigious perspective, you’re going to be automatically terminated for that level of excessive political incorrectness.

    If you make a lot of money, and have an army of suits and a union watching your back, you can pretty much get away with murder. That’s how the world works. The Oilers would not be the sole practitioners of this type of hypocrisy, assuming that’s how it goes down.

  • Mike from Canmore's illegitimate love child

    Maybe Khabby is an alcoholic. That has to be taken into consideration too. He needs help. To drive with 0.16 BAL tells us he has to drink a lot to get his buzz. If the Oilers don’t void his contract, he should be suspended for a year while he seeks treatment. He has to admit it first though, which he won’t. If his vehicles in Arizona are equiped with a breather, his Canadain ones have to be too. I hope his work visa is revoked.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    anyone have any indication on how a conviction will impact ‘bulins ability to cross the border?

    i realize 110% pardons are made all the time, but i assume that process takes some time…

    ~~~though, i guess he was probably going to start 50ish games anyways, so playing all the games in canada only might work!!!~~~

  • Petr's Jofa

    Excellent article. Even better question.

    Suspect the Oilers do little and hope no one asks them some of the above hard questions such that the issue goes away