BUFFALO – For those of you who care about the Calgary Flames, they won an overtime game in Buffalo Wednesday night and Geoff Ward got his first career win as an NHL head coach. Someone got the puck for him. And after a disastrous 5-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues to start their four-game road trip, they picked up five of a possible eight points. And they all feel pretty good about themselves.
This will matter to you someday soon. But right now, a 3-2 overtime win in late November is a footnote to one of the most bizarre coaching scenarios in NHL history. What matters now is the situation revolving around coach Bill Peters, one that’s ever changing, ever moving. It keeps gaining tentacles with every passing day and Wednesday in Buffalo was no exception.
And now, it seems, all that’s left are the legalities. It seems pretty clear that regardless of what the Flames conclude in their investigation, it would be almost impossible for Peters to step behind that bench ever again. There's even exists the possibility he’s coached his last game in the NHL. It seems the only thing left is whether the Flames fire him with cause or without cause, which would affect how much he’ll collect on a contract that has the rest of this season and next on it at $2 million per year. If the Flames fire him, and do so with cause, does that mean they’ll be able to do so without paying him out? Would the two parties sit down and work out a settlement that would see Peters resign? If there is a morals clause to his contract, does it apply to his current job or can it be attached to things he did as a minor league coach nine years ago and is alleged to have done with the Carolina Hurricanes?
All relevant questions, ones that will be answered in the coming days. Flames GM Brad Treliving addressed the media after the game and acknowledged that the team had received a letter of apology from Peters concerning the incident with Akim Aliu during the 2009-10 season with the Rockford IceHogs of the American League. Peters, who coached the Nigerian-born Aliu on that team, was accused of directing a racial slur at the player, something he acknowledged to have done and apologized for in a letter that became public during the game Wednesday night.
“I know my comments have been the source of both anger and disappointment and I understand why,” Peters said in his letter addressed to Treliving. “Although it was an isolated and immediately regrettable incident, I take responsibility for what I said. The statement was made in a moment of frustration and does not reflect my personal values. After the incident, I was rightfully challenged about my use of the language, and I immediately returned to the dressing room to apologize to the team.
“I have regretted the incident since it happened, and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words. I am aware that there is no excuse for language that is offensive. I meant no disrespect in what I said, and it was not directed at anyone in particular.”
Treliving acknowledged after the game that he had received the letter from Peters, who landed back in Calgary Wednesday night. He said it will be used in the team’s investigation into what happened and said the Flames are trying to take care of this matter as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible.
“This investigation we’re doing, I know everyone wants this done immediately and the world we live in is immediate,” Treliving said in post-game his statement, after which he did not take questions. “We are not trying to stall or take time or drag our feet. It’s a serious matter. And it’s involving serious subject matter. I just want to make sure we are doing a thorough job in looking under every stone, rock and doing all the things that need to be done.”
Treliving said he hopes to provide a further update Thursday after the Flames return home from the road trip. For the time being, Bill Peters is still the coach of the Calgary Flames, even though lost in all of this was the fact that Ward, a hard-working career assistant, picked up his first NHL victory. The Flames have done a good job of keeping themselves isolated from the white noise this situation has created and, with or without Peters, feel as though they’re finding their identity.
“The team has been going through a lot of stuff the last couple of weeks and we’ve had our struggles and things have been going on outside the circumstances of the last couple of days,” Ward said. “There are some things they’ve been able to draw on. They seem to be a lot looser around the room and they seem to be having more fun again, which is important, and those things are usually signs you’re starting to turn your game around.”
“We’re going back home feeling a lot better about ourselves,” said Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk. “The feeling of the dressing room is great right now.”
Well, they might want to bottle that because the next couple of days will not be easy for this organization.
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