NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis released a statement Saturday saying he took alleged physical abuse by coach Bill Peters “very seriously’’ when both were working for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Peters was accused of having kicked one Hurricanes player in the back and punched another one in the head during a game. Francis did not say what steps he took with Peters, but added that he briefed the team’s ownership at the time.
That contradicts what then-Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said in an interview with The Seattle Times last Wednesday. Karmanos said he’d have fired Peters “in a nanosecond’’ had anyone told him about the incidents.
Peters resigned as head coach of the Calgary Flames on Friday while an investigation was underway into his use of a racial epithet against a black player while coaching in the minors more than a decade ago.
“When I was general manager in Carolina, after a game, a group of players and hockey staff members made me aware of the physical incidents involving two players and Bill Peters. I took this matter very seriously,” the statement by Francis said. “I took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership. To my knowledge, no further such incidents occurred.”
Francis said it would have been “inappropriate’’ to comment publicly while an active investigation was being conducted by the Flames and added he would not comment further.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour last Wednesday had already told reporters that players and staffers went to Francis about the incident and that he believed it had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction with no repeat occurrences. No specific date has been given for the game in question, but it is believed to have been at some point during the 2015-16 season.
Francis gave Peters a two-year contract extension after that season in the summer of 2016. Reports out of North Carolina this week indicated that Peters staying on caused an internal team rift involving some players and staffers.
Peters resigned from the Hurricanes in April 2018 and quickly took a job with the Flames.
Last Monday, former NHL player Akim Aliu tweeted that Peters had used the “N’’ word with him during the 2008-09 season while they were both with the same American Hockey League squad.
The allegations caused a firestorm, prompting the investigation. Then, on Tuesday, former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan tweeted that Peters had kicked him in the back and punched another unidentified defenseman during a game. Jordan played two seasons under Peters ending after 2015-16 when he left to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
In his interview last week with the Times, Karmanos said of Jordan: “I never could figure out why the kid wouldn’t take the contract we had offered him. He was an excellent seventh defenseman as far as I was concerned. And now, I can understand why (he left).’’
Karmanos said he’d wanted to fire Peters strictly for not having made the playoffs, but Francis continuously stood by the first coaching hire he’d made after taking the team’s GM job in 2014-15.
“We couldn’t make the playoffs and as it turned out we had a pretty good nucleus,’’ Karmanos said. “And then he leaves and it takes Rod (Brind’Amour) half a year to make the playoffs and make the conference final.’’
Karmanos said Francis typically played things close to the vest as a GM – even with him – but that he “absolutely’’ expected to be informed of any physical striking by a coach and that Peters “wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with me or most of our organization’’ had that been done.
“Look, I ran large companies with thousands of people, and I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior from any of our management. And these are all very talented people. You don’t treat employees that way. You can’t be verbally or physically abusive.’’
Karmanos sold the team to Thomas Dundon in December 2017. Dundon removed Francis as GM that spring and Peters resigned soon after.
Francis was hired last July as NHL Seattle’s first GM.