Controversy in the NHL: Two Coaches, Two Weeks

Two NHL coaches were fired within two weeks of one another for alleged abuse towards their players.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock was suddenly relieved of his coaching duties on Nov. 20 and replaced with Sheldon Keefe. On Friday, former Calgary Flames Head Coach Bill Peters resigned after allegations regarding verbal and physical abuse against his players.

When looking solely at Babcock’s face-value statistics, the Leafs were 9-10-4 to start the 2019-20 season. With the amount of talent on their roster, including forward John Tavares, center Auston Matthews and right wing Mitch Marner, the team was expected to perform much better and be at the top of the Atlantic Division. After Babcock took over the desperately struggling Toronto team in 2015, the Leafs made the playoffs three times but fell flat in the first round each time. Yet the reasons for Babcock’s departure wasn’t as simple as a poor start to a season and lackluster playoff performances. 

Since his firing, multiple players who played under him spoke out against his tactics designed to psychologically antagonize his players. According to The Toronto Sun, Babcock forced Marner during his rookie season, in private, to list all of his teammates and rank them from the most hard working to the least hard working. Babcock then took Marner’s list and showed it to the rest of the team. Marner’s teammates defended him, with former Leafs forward Nazem Kadri calling Babcock out soon after. 

Former NHL player Carlo Colaiacovo, who played for Babcock during his time with the Detroit Red Wings, told TSN that he was “very worried about playing for Mike Babcock because of the players that played for him, the things that they were saying about him, how he’s ‘not a good person,’ how he ‘doesn’t treat guys with respect,’ how he singles guys out, how he makes examples of players…” 

Retired player Mike Commodore also voiced his displeasure towards Babcock on Twitter the day he was fired.

“Hey Mike Babcock….simply put, your players quit on you. They quit on you because you are a terrible human being. You are an average coach with an extremely oversized ego. You finally got exactly what you deserve you selfish prick. The hockey world is ecstatic.”

Babcock’s relationship with the hockey world was soured further right before the season began. He scratched Jason Spezza, a league veteran, for the current season opener against Spezza’s longtime former team, the Ottawa Senators. 

But while hockey media was tied up with accusations against Babcock’s coaching methods, another more shocking coaching scandal was simultaneously unfolding on the other side of Canada, this time involving Peters. 

The Calgary head coach was accused of being racist and physically harming his players.

Former NHLer Akim Aliu tweeted about Peters on Nov. 25 in the wake of Babcock’s firing.

“Not very surprising the things we’re hearing about Babcock. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, same sort of deal with his protege in [Calgary]. Dropped the N-bomb several times towards me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music. First one to admit I rebelled against him. Wouldn’t you? And instead of remedying the situation, he wrote a letter to John McDonough and Stan Bowman to have me sent down to the ECHL.” 

Aliu told TSN that Peters told him 10 years ago before a morning skate, “Hey Akim, I’m sick of you playing that n***** sh*t. I’m sick of hearing this n*****s f*ck*ng other n*****s in the ass stuff.”

The day after Aliu tweeted about Peters’ racist remarks, former NHL player Michal Jordan tweeted another troubling account about the coach during his stint with the Carolina Hurricanes.

“Never wish anything bad to the person but you get what you deserve, Bill. After years [of] making it to the NHL, [I] had experience with the worst coach ever by far. Kicking me and punching other players [in] the head during the game then pretending like nothing happened…couldn’t believe my eyes what can happen in the best league…happy that I don’t have to go through that stuff on [a] daily basis anymore.”

After the series of tweets came out, the Flames and the NHL investigated the testimonies and forced Peters to sit out his team’s next game against the Buffalo Sabres. Peters later sent an apology to Flames General Manager Brad Treliving addressing Aliu. The former Rockford Icehog declined Peters’ apology, labeling it “insincere” in a tweet. On Friday, Peters stepped down as the Flames head coach. 

Babcock’s harsh mental games and Peters’ inexcusable comments and actions don’t have a place in hockey nor anywhere in the world of sports. Without the aid of social media, these troubling instances would’ve been swept under the carpet indefinitely.

About Jared LaBrecque 103 Articles
Jared LaBrecque is a fourth-year journalism major. This is his fifth semester on The Oracle. He previously served as a News Copy Editor and a Sports Copy Editor. He enjoys writing about his favorite sports, Formula 1 and hockey, as well as Coldplay and cars.