PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The NHL will immediately start the process of creating programs aimed at sensitizing team personnel and players to abusive behavior of any kind, raising awareness among them in hopes of eliminating incidents.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the plans and programs following the Board of Governors meeting Monday.
They are based on recent incidents and revelations regarding alleged abusive behavior from certain coaches, initially brought into focus by former NHL player Akim Aliu two weeks ago. Aliu met with Commissioner Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last week.
The Board of Governors was fully supportive in its approval of the programs, and the NHL Players' Association was consulted and is a willing participant, Commissioner Bettman said.
"Our message is unequivocal," the Commissioner said. "We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind."
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Commissioner Bettman, who addressed these topics with the Board of Governors at the outset of the meeting, said the League has notified all team executives that if they become aware of an on-ice or off-ice incident of abusive conduct involving NHL personnel, it must be immediately reported to either the Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner.
The Commissioner said all incidents will be handled on a case-by-case basis and that the discipline, designed to both remedy the active situation and ensure no further incidents occur, could come from the team, the League or both.
"There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us," Commissioner Bettman said, "and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline."
The Commissioner said the League will formulate a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion that must be attended by all NHL coaches, assistants, general managers and assistant general managers as well as minor league coaches under contract with an NHL team. Commissioner Bettman said the League will work with an outside organization to create the program and that the NHLPA and NHL Coaches' Association will be consulted.
The Commissioner also said the NHLPA will be consulted to determine if the program being put into place will also be sufficient for the players or if a different program will have to be created for them.
"We already do mandatory training with the coaches on a number of issues, concussion protocol and the like," Deputy Commissioner Daly said. "We see this as adding to the curriculum. It's really consciousness-raising."
In addition, Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, will be tasked with forming a council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey, making available resources that will enable any organization to reach out to the League for assistance, Commissioner Bettman said.
"Unfortunately, in this world there are incidents," the Commissioner said. "That doesn't make it all right. One incident is too many. Our goal is to continue to educate, consciousness-raise and do the right thing to keep incidents of inappropriate conduct to a minimum and actually eliminate them entirely, and make sure people understand that our game is open, inclusive and we pride ourselves on our diversity."
Commissioner Bettman also said the League will create a platform that he referred to as a "hotline" to allow conduct connected to the NHL to be reported, anonymously if necessary. The Commissioner compared it to the reporting process for the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program.
"In this regard, we understand the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation," Commissioner Bettman said. "I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up."
Aliu's tweets from two weeks ago alleged former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters directed racial epithets at him 10 years ago, when Peters was the coach and Aliu a player for Rockford of the American Hockey League. Peters resigned as Calgary coach Nov. 29, four days after the NHL and the Flames announced they were investigating Aliu's claim.
Commissioner Bettman said he doesn't believe many more incidents from the past will emerge because "for the most part, overwhelmingly NHL personnel on and off the ice conduct themselves magnificently." But he acknowledged there could be gray areas the League will come across after implementing the programs.
"We're going to have to go through this process of creating a program to give better guidance," Commissioner Bettman said. "There may be other things that clearly cross the line, and there may be gray areas, but part of what we have to do is sensitize people to those gray areas so you can be more cautious. Even if there is a line, why get too close to it? Let's have a respectful workplace where people can feel comfortable doing their jobs."