Dallas Stars fire head coach Jim Montgomery for 'unprofessional conduct'

Dallas Stars fire head coach Jim Montgomery for 'unprofessional conduct'

The Dallas Stars on Tuesday dismissed second-year head coach Jim Montgomery due to "unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League."

Stars general manager Jim Nill said he became aware Sunday of an act by Montgomery and that the decision to relieve the coach of his duties came after an internal investigation that included discussions with the team's general counsel. While not going into detail, Nill said it was not a criminal act, and had no connection to present or past players.

Nill said he informed Montgomery of his firing on Tuesday morning and would not reveal anything else about their conversation.   "He's disappointed. We're disappointed," said Nill, who hired Montgomery in May 2018. "A very tough decision. I have got a lot of respect for Jim Montgomery. He's a very good coach. And unfortunately, you know, sometimes in life, the hardest decisions are the toughest. And this is one of them."

Montgomery did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment.

Assistant coach Rick Bowness, who was brought aboard a month after Montgomery's hiring, has been named interim coach.

'Everyone is surprised'

"The Dallas Stars expect all of our employees to act with integrity and exhibit professional behaviour while working for and representing our organization," Nill said in a news release.

WATCH | Jim Nill discusses Jim Montgomery's firing:

The players were informed of the move Tuesday morning.

"I mean, everyone is surprised, obviously. No one knew about this and it came as a shock," Stars defenceman John Klingberg said, according to NHL.com. "But like I said, we're professionals. We have a game here [Tuesday night against New Jersey] and we're going to have to focus on that and move on."

Dallas is fourth in the Central Division with a 17-11-3 record and holds the top wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference after a 1-7-1 start to the season.

Joining Bowness' staff is Derek Laxdal, who was serving as head coach of the Texas Stars, Dallas' American Hockey League affiliate in Cedar Park. Texas has also promoted assistant Neil Graham to head coach.

The Stars earned a 2-0 home victory in their first game under Bowness on Tuesday.

'Monty is a great coach, a great person'

Nill hired three coaches in his first six seasons with the club and faces the prospect of doing it again next summer. He said the current coaching staff would remain in place for the rest of the season while the Stars try to live up to high expectations.

Bowness will be the sixth coach in captain Jamie Benn's 11 seasons with the Stars.

"We didn't expect this one today," Benn said. "But Monty is a great coach, a great person and that's why this one's a little tougher. I had a great relationship with him. It's almost like when teammates get traded or you lose players within your organization. It's kind of the same feeling where it doesn't feel good."

WATCH | CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin discusses Montgomery firing on The National:

The 50-year-old Montgomery departs Dallas with a 60-43-10 regular-season mark and about a year and a half left on a four-year, $6.4-million US contract. He guided the Stars to their first Stanley Cup playoff berth in three seasons last spring, and watched the team lose Game 7 of a second-round series to the eventual Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

Before his hiring in Dallas, Montgomery was 125-57-26 the previous five seasons at the University of Denver, including a national title in 2016-17. As a player, he was part of a national championship at Maine in 1993.

'We will not tolerate abusive behaviour'

On Monday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would work swiftly to make changes to better deal with personnel conduct issues in the wake of incidents that surfaced in recent weeks.

WATCH | Gary Bettman discusses Bill Peters incident:

"Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behaviour of any kind," Bettman told reporters at the end of the first day of the board of governors meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Montgomery's firing is not related to that kind of misbehaviour, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had not elaborated on the reason for Montgomery's dismissal.

Bettman also made it clear there would be zero tolerance from the league moving forward.

On Nov. 29, Bill Peters resigned as Calgary Flames head coach amid allegations of racial slurs and physical abuse of players in previous jobs.

A few days earlier, former NHL player Akim Aliu alleged Peters directed racial slurs toward him while they were both employed by the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League in the 2009-10 season.

WATCH: Akim Aliu sees big changes coming to NHL

Blackhawks investigate assistant coach Crawford

"We don't like surprises," Bettman said. "The Bill Peters situation was a complete surprise."

Head coach Mike Babcock was also accused of verbal abuse after he was fired recently by the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Last week, Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford was put on leave while the team investigates allegations of physical abuse made against him by two other former players.

Bowness, 64, has spent more than 40 years in the NHL as a player and coach.

The Halifax native has been a head coach in Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa, Phoenix (now Arizona) and with the New York Islanders, and compiled a record of 123-289-51. His last head coaching stint lasted 20 games with the Coyotes in 2003-04.

In 2015, Bowness reached the 2,000-game plateau as a head coach and assistant/associate coach in Tampa Bay, where he passed the legendary Scotty Bowman for most games coached in the NHL.

New Jersey fired head coach John Hynes on Dec. 3 and is 0-2-1 under interim coach Alain Nasreddine.