Hextall on Hockey: NHL coaches and culture change

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

On Monday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the league’s board of governors, stating the league has a no-tolerance policy for abusive behaviour of any kind.

He described a plan for every coach contracted by the NHL at any level to be mandated by the league to take an “annual program on counselling, consciousness-raising and training on diversity and inclusion” – a course that will be created by outside professionals with input from the NHL players and coaches’ associations.

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Let’s be clear: the NHL and its commissioner hate surprises, especially ones that leave a blemish on the league’s reputation.

I have no doubt the NHL is serious on its stance and will act swiftly on implementing this new program. But like in life, what is acceptable in one culture is unacceptable in another.

Not everyone will agree with a coach’s methods. What works to motivate one player may not work for another. That is why the NHL has chosen to evaluate each incident on a “case-by-case basis,” as they do with all their discipline protocols.

In fact, the NHL is the only major North American professional sport without a formal policy or code of conduct. The NFL, the NBA and MLB conduct policies are all clearly defined.

With no protocol clearly laid out in black and white, the NHL can operate in an area of grey – an ill-defined space that can be left open to interpretation. It’s this interpretation of what’s acceptable in the game’s culture that is at the root of the problem.

If the NHL is true to its word about a no-tolerance policy for abusive behaviour, then what is the harm in putting pen to paper and clearly defining the new culture in the NHL?

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Growing allegations of abuse, toxic culture in hockey
Growing allegations of abuse, toxic culture in hockey