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Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleansing

A day after the NHL announced a four-point plan intended to eradicate inappropriate and abusive conduct in what commissioner Gary Bettman deemed “an opportunity and a moment for positive change,” the Dallas Stars announced this morning they have fired coach Jim Montgomery.

While it’s fair comment to suggest such a program is long overdue in the wake of an incident that came to light weeks ago involving Akim Aliu and coach Bill Peters, among others, there’s not much doubt Bettman and the NHL, along with its member clubs, isn’t just paying lip service to cleaning up the culture of the game. This isn’t about just trying to smooth things over.

In a statement released by the Stars, GM Jim Nill said “The @Dallas Stars expect all of our employees to act with integrity and exhibit professional behaviour 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.”

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Peters resigned as coach of the @Calgary Flames Nov. 29 after an investigation by the Flames regarding racial slurs directed at Aliu in the AHL a decade ago. Now Montgomery, who took over as Dallas head coach before the 2018-19 season and had the Stars sitting at 17-11-3 this season, is gone with the details of what got him fired still to be announced. In that regard, it would be jumping the gun to speculate what the nature of the issue or issues Nill deemed “unprofessional conduct” by Montgomery involves.

THE NEW WAY

“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 . . . we at the league office, (deputy commissioner) Bill Daly or me, must be immediately advised,” Bettman said at governors’ meetings in California Monday. “There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline.”

Again, while taking steps like Bettman announced Monday have been a long time coming, we’re finally seeing the NHL get serious about racism and abuse. That’s a starting point. It’s also reasonable to believe what the NHL considers “clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive” is casting a wider net than simply the most obvious cases of unacceptable behaviour.

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet spelled out the approach Bettman outlined. In addition to mandating that every incident be reported to the NHL’s top officials, they will:

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  • Require that all team executives and coaches participate in an annual training program that focuses on “counselling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.
  • Ensure all inappropriate conduct is subject to league or team discipline that is “severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again.
  • Create a hotline where instances of inappropriate conduct can be reported either anonymously or with attribution. Bettman noted that it is of “critical importance” that whistleblowers be protected.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This from Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger:

So, we know that what got Montgomery fired by the Stars does not involve “abuse.” Until details are released, we don’t know what “unprofessional conduct” in this case does involve. In an availability with media after the news first broke, Nill shed a little more light on the issue without adding many details. Nill called the incident a “material act of unprofessionalism” and said it did not involve players past or present.

What is clear today and moving forward is that everybody involved in hockey at the NHL level is on notice. Times have changed. What is acceptable and unacceptable will be held up to scrutiny. I don’t see that as a bad thing, but you might disagree. Either way, here we are.

Previously by Robin Brownlee