ST. LOUIS – The National Hockey League is one step closer to creating a platform that will allow players to report abusive behavior.
During a press conference Friday in Enterprise Center, Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed further details about a hotline that will allow reports to be filed over the phone or online and will be operational in "a few months." It will be accessible in multiple languages and whistleblowers can choose to file the report anonymously.
In the meantime, the NHL retained an independent firm to investigate incidents that have been brought to light. The sweeping changes are in response to allegations made by former NHL player Akim Aliu against Bill Peters, who resigned as coach of the Calgary Flames on Nov. 29.
The league's initiative also includes a diversity and inclusion council, which Bettman will co-chair with the Buffalo Sabres' Kim Pegula.
"We will continue to be transparent in the steps we are taking to improve and pledge to the hockey community and beyond that we are steadfast in our commitment to ensure this game provides a safe working environment that is welcoming for all," Bettman said as part of his opening statement ahead of the NHL skills competition.
Bettman revealed a plan for the hotline in December, when he also noted that teams had been put "on notice" to report any alleged incidents. The NHL is also implementing annual mandatory training for coaches and executives, which will focus on "counseling, consciousness raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion." The program is expected to be in place in time for the NHL draft or, at the latest, before training camps open in September.
The hotline and training are part of the league's efforts to address incidents that reveal a potentially toxic culture around the sport.
Aliu, a forward who played for Peters with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs in 2009-10, tweeted Nov. 25 that the coach used a racial slur while expressing frustration with the music being played in the dressing room. Two of Aliu's teammates in Rockford independently corroborated the allegations and Peters was dismissed following an investigation.
Aliu chose to raise awareness after a Toronto Sun report revealed former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock asked Mitch Marner, a rookie at the time, to rank players on the team from hardest-working to least hardest-working.
Babcock reportedly informed his players of Marner's rankings and expressed regret to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman shortly after the Toronto Sun story was published. Peters, who counted Babcock as a mentor, was then the subject of Aliu's tweet that read: "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 YYC. 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."
Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford stepped away from his duties while the team investigated claims that Crawford kicked and punched players during his time with the Los Angeles Kings. Peters also reportedly did the same while coaching the Carolina Hurricanes. Crawford returned to the Blackhawks on Jan. 2.
Bettman first announced Pegula's role as co-chair ahead of the NHL draft in June, though no details have been released regarding her exact duties on the council.
"We are thrilled to have Kim’s participation," Bettman said Thursday.
The wide-ranging, 30-minute press conference included a number of topics, including player and puck tracking. Each of the 16 playoff teams this season will have their arenas outfitted with the necessary technology in time for postseason play to begin. Additionally, Bettman announced Thursday that each of the 31 arenas will be fully operational in 2020-21.
The NHL initially planned to roll out the technology last season, however, the league was forced to replace its technology partner in September. Microchips will be placed on player jerseys and inside game pucks with real-time data gathered by antennas inside each rink.
The information will be displayed on television broadcasts, though the user will be able to decide whether he or she can choose their viewing experience.
"It will be as a fan or viewer what you want it to be," Bettman said. "You’ll be able to watch the game as you always watched it traditionally if you want. There will be broadcast enhancements on the primary screen or secondary screen. There will be more data than ever before.
While the league's players' association prefers to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Bettman does not sound thrilled with the idea. He called the NHL's participation "extraordinarily disruptive" and plans to engage in talks with IIHF President Rene Fasel sometime in the near future.
Bettman added that the NHL cannot make a decision on its participation until it receives a complete schedule for the event. The league's players did not attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after participating in each event since 1998.
The NHL plans to re-engage in negotiations with its players' association regarding the collective bargaining agreement, which expires Sept. 15, 2022. Both sides opted to not file for early termination this past September.
"We have been anxious to re-engage," Bettman said. "The players association has taken a bit of a deeper breath. … My expectation is we’ll re-engage shortly in a more energetic way than perhaps we have in the past couple of months."