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NHL speeding up plan focused on culture, inclusion

Initiative has been in works for more than year, executive VP Davis says

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The NHL has been working for more than a year on a strategic plan focused on culture and inclusion, executive vice president Kim Davis said Tuesday.

Recent allegations of abusive behavior by certain coaches has allowed the League to speed up the process and bring it to light publicly, Davis said.

"There's often some kind of defining moment in an organization that causes that organization to both accelerate its efforts, but also to become a rallying call for that organization," Davis, the League's executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, said from the Board of Governors meeting. "I see that as positive."

As part of the acceleration, Davis has been tasked by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to form and direct what the Commssioner called "a multidisciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey." Commissioner Bettman mentioned the council Monday in announcing that the League would immediately start the process of creating plans and programs aimed at sensitizing team personnel and players to abusive behavior of any kind.

Davis said she is formulating what the council will look like before presenting the final version to Commissioner Bettman, but the plan is to get as many willing participants involved as possible. She said the council could feature a governing committee that will take input and advice from several subcommittees.

Davis said the subcommittees could include dimensions focused on players and a partnership with the NHL Players' Association; stakeholders in the game who don't necessarily fall under the NHL umbrella but who are looking for guidance and advice on how to put the NHL's principles into practice; and content and marketing to best communicate to the fans.

"Our thinking is that this can't be sequential," Davis said. "We have to have multiple levers that we're pulling simultaneously, and so we want to create a committee architecture that allows subcommittees to be really working and doing the groundwork that then ladders up to this broader committee of individuals who have the power to actually execute and make these things happen."

Davis said the goal is to have it all in place this season, but it's not prudent to rush because the idea is to put these practices in place so they can begin to dissolve into the sport and become the norm.

"So that we aren't having this conversation, it is a natural part of how we think about the sport in terms of individuals of all different backgrounds feeling like the sport is welcoming to them," Davis said. "That's the ultimate. … Imagine that the work that we're doing today is going to set the tone for the way the sport looks 20 years from now. We can't get exhausted by that notion because we're dealing with people who operate in executing things and seeing action immediately. Culture change is not something that you're going to see in six months, in nine months, maybe not even in two years."

Video: Dan Rosen checks in from the BOG Meetings

Former NHL players are encouraged by the actions being taken by the League.

Anson Carter, who played in the League from 1996-2007, called it a good first step.

"Think about years ago when the League came out and said, 'We want to get rid of the hooking and the holding,'" said Carter, an analyst for NBC Sports. "Everyone said, 'How are you going to do that? Hooking and holding has been part of hockey forever.' Guess what? We've got a faster game now. If they can do that with hooking and holding, we can have that same type of impact with getting rid of these racial stereotypes and negativity, and include and improve diversity and inclusion in the game of hockey on all levels, not just the NHL."

Former NHL player Joel Ward said a key will be having direct communication with the players who are affected most by the changes in culture and inclusion the League is trying to promote.

Ward endured racial slurs via social media after he scored an overtime goal for the Washington Capitals that eliminated the Boston Bruins from the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Hopefully the League understands what some guys are going through and have gone through to try to put a stop to this, for sure," said Ward, who played in the NHL from 2006-18.

Davis said she sees the allegation that former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters directed racial epithets at former NHL player Akim Aliu while Peters was his coach in the American Hockey League during the 2009-10 season as an example of culture change happening already. Aliu made the allegation Nov. 25. Peters resigned as Flames coach four days later.

"We can't underestimate the power of that as an example as one of the steps for this creation of an environment where people feel welcome," Davis said. "We have to measure this in terms of all of the little things that lead up to the big thing. That's our vision for this, that this becomes part of the DNA of how we operate, and it's not just a flavor of the month." staff writer William Douglas contributed to this report

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