NHL·The Buzzer

NHL coaches are definitely on notice now

Today's edition of our newsletter is about the surprising news that the Dallas Stars fired their head coach for "unprofessional conduct," and what the NHL plans to do about its crisis of coaches behaving badly.

Dallas just fired theirs for "unprofessional conduct" and new rules are arriving

Jim Montgomery is the latest NHL coach whose personal conduct has cost him. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The Dallas Stars fired their head coach for 'unprofessional conduct'

Jim Montgomery was surprisingly let go today for unspecified reasons. In the press release announcing the move, Stars general manager Jim Nill said the team expects "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."

At our publish time, there were no reports about exactly what happened. Nill told reporters he received a call Sunday about something that occurred a few days earlier. He said it didn't involve any current or former players and there's no criminal investigation. Nill also said this is not related to potential new personal contact guidelines NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed at the league's Board of Governors meetings yesterday (more on that later). It seems like everyone was caught off guard. Rick Bowness said he just found out this morning that he's the new interim head coach. Defenceman John Klingberg said "no one knew about this and it came as a shock."

This was only Montgomery's second season as an NHL head coach. He led Dallas to the second round of the playoffs last spring. Before that, he coached at the University of Denver. This season has been up and down for the Stars, but mostly up. They lost eight of their first nine games, then won 14 of their next 16, then lost four in a row before winning their last two. On the whole they're 17-11-3 and currently holding down a playoff spot. It's pretty rare for a coach in this position to get fired, and Nill said it had nothing to do with Montgomery's performance.

But the time of reckoning is upon us for NHL coaches. Montgomery is the second head coach in the last 11 days to lose his job because of his conduct. Bill Peters resigned from the Flames on Nov. 29 after he was accused of using a racial slur in the minor leagues a decade ago and also of physically abusing players during his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Meanwhile, Chicago assistant Marc Crawford is still on leave as the team investigates allegations by two players that he physically assaulted them when they were with other teams (though those players, Sean Avery and Brent Sopel, have since walked back their comments). Also, several people have come forward with stories about recently fired Toronto head coach Mike Babcock just generally acting like not a good guy.

Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery has been let go for what GM Jim Nill called 'a material act of unprofessionalism.' 1:02

The NHL is now trying to do something about all this

How's that for timing? Montgomery's firing comes the day after commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league's plan for dealing with the behavioural crisis it's suddenly faced with. A lot of work still needs to be done to formalize policies, but the NHL needed to at least get something out there in the meantime. While the new guidelines will supposedly apply to everyone, it's obvious that the recent run of bad news involving coaches is what inspired this.

Here are the key takeaways from what Bettman said yesterday at the NHL's Board of Governors meetings in California:

Bettman didn't put forth an actual, formal code of conduct as some expected. Fair enough: it takes time to write up (and lawyer) something like that. But he did announce some steps the league is taking (or intends to take) and a general guiding principle of sorts: "We will not tolerate abusive behaviour of any kind."

Teams must now notify Bettman or deputy commissioner Bill Daly right away if they become aware of any "inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive" behaviour. That goes for anything involving "NHL personnel" whether it's "on or off the ice." Failure to do so will result in "severe discipline."

But Bettman didn't commit the NHL to dealing with every case itself. He said discipline for inappropriate conduct will be handed out "either by the team, the league or both." He later added that the league is letting the Blackhawks handle the Crawford investigation on their own.

A system for whistleblowers — "perhaps a hotline" — will be set up. The idea is to give people a way to report things — anonymously, if they choose — with less fear of retaliation. This could be a response to the other allegation Aliu made: that Peters, after Aliu confronted him about the racial slur, asked his bosses in the Chicago organization to demote Aliu to a lower level of the minor leagues, damaging the young player's chances of making it to the NHL. As Aliu has noted, non-established players are often afraid to step forward and call out abuse when their superiors have the power to ruin their careers so easily.

All head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers and assistant GMs will have to take an annual educational program on "diversity and inclusion." The program doesn't exist yet, but the NHL will hire "outside professionals" to create something that focuses on ensuring a "respectful" workplace and also teaches "bystander intervention techniques, anti-harassment, anti-hazing, non-retaliation and anti-bullying best practices."

Bettman acknowledged that different coaches have different methods, but that there are certain lines that can't be crossed. Those include "physical abuse and racial and homophobic language." He hopes that behaviour that falls into the "grey area" will be sorted out via the educational program so that everyone knows what's acceptable and what's not.

Bettman praised the Flames for their handling of the Peters allegations, but also seemed to take a shot at them. He said "I think it is pretty fair to say that from now on when a club is hiring a coach, the due diligence a team conducts will go to levels never seen before." Calgary hired Peters just a few days after he quit as Carolina's head coach back in the spring of 2018. Flames GM Brad Treliving insisted during his press conference announcing Peters' resignation that he didn't know about any of the accusations against Peters when he made the hire.

The NHL is still investigating Aliu's allegations against Peters. Part of that was a meeting with Aliu last week. Aliu tweeted after Bettman made his remarks last night that he's "encouraged the commissioner embraced many of the changes we proposed at the meeting" but also that "now the hard work begins of focusing on specifics and implementing policy…" He's right: it's a lot easier to say what you want to do than to actually do it. So we'll see what happens next.

The NHL commissioner discussed the league's plans to combat inappropriate conduct by team officials. 1:00

Quickly...

The Patriots are being suspected of cheating again. From the team that brought you SpyGate (the 2007 scandal that saw coach Bill Belichick and the team fined heavily and docked a draft pick for videotaping Jets coaches' signals) and DeflateGate (the 2015 controversy that resulted in QB Tom Brady serving a four-game suspension for allegedly ordering too much air to be taken out of game balls) comes… I don't know... SpyGate II: BengalGate? Let's workshop that a little more. Anyways, the defending Super Bowl champs are being accused of breaking the rules again after a videographer was caught taping the sideline of the Patriots' upcoming opponent, Cincinnati, during the Bengals' game against Cleveland on Sunday. New England claims the guy was just gathering footage for a documentary about one of its scouts who was working up in the press box. But the Bengals complained to the NFL that the videographer was also filming their sideline during the game, which isn't allowed. The Patriots say they've turned over all the footage to the league and are cooperating with its investigation. Belichick said he "didn't have anything at all to do with this." Read more about the controversy here.

There's a cheating scandal in golf now too. 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed was given a two-stroke penalty for improving his lie in a bunker when he moved sand with his practice swing during a tournament last week. Reed is playing for the U.S. team in the Presidents Cup this week, and one of his foes on the International team needled him for "cheating the rules." Reed took issue with the word "cheat," saying what he did was unintentional and tournament officials had agreed with him on that. Read more here.

Kylie Masse is the Canadian female swimmer of the year again. This is the third straight time she's won the award. Masse was a fairly easy pick after becoming the first Canadian swimmer to win back-to-back world titles in the same event (100m backstroke) and also adding bronze medals in the 200 back and a relay event. But there was no shortage of contenders this year: Canada swimmers won a national-record eight medals in the pool at the world championships, and all eight were by women. Maggie MacNeil came out of nowhere to win the 100m butterfly gold, Sydney Pickrem grabbed two individual bronze medals, and Canadian relay teams added three more bronze. Exciting stuff with the Olympics coming up in the summer. Read more about Masse here.

Canadian Chuba Hubbard didn't make the shortlist for the Heisman Trophy. The Oklahoma State running back from Edmonton won the Big 12 conference's offensive player of the year award after piling up 1,936 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. But he was passed over as a nominee for college football's biggest honour in favour of three quarterbacks (LSU's Joe Burrow, Ohio State's Justin Fields and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts) and a pass rusher (Ohio State's Chase Young). All four of those guys helped their team reach the four-team playoff for the national championship, joining defending champ Clemson. Hubbard's team finished the season ranked 25th and was relegated to playing in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27. The Heisman winner will be announced on Saturday. It'll probably be Burrow.

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