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The Calgary Flames’ Original Excuse For Dillon Dubé’s Absence Now Looks Slimy

Dillon Dube #29 of the Calgary Flames during a break in play against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Leah Hennel/Getty Images

On Tuesday, TSN's Rick Westhead confirmed that the five current and former NHL players who took leaves of absence from their respective teams last week were the same five members of the 2018 Canadian World Juniors hockey team who were asked to surrender to police and face charges of sexual assault: Dillon Dubé, Carter Hart, Alex Formenton, Michael McLeod, and Cal Foote. Since then, the legal teams for each player have released statements acknowledging the charges and denying responsibility.

While the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, and Swiss hockey team Ambrì-Piotta (which rosters Formenton) declared that players had taken leaves for either personal reasons or issued no comment at all, the Calgary Flames' original explanation for Dubé's absence cited a different reason. "Dillon Dubé has been granted an indefinite leave of absence from the team while he attends to his mental health," the team's statement on Jan. 21 read. "Dillon is under the care of health professionals, and we request that Dillon's privacy is respected during this period."

Now that Dubé has been confirmed as one of the five players facing charges, the statement feels less vague than insidious. While it certainly may be possible that Dubé's mental health might be suffering from being charged with sexual assault, that's hardly the primary takeaway. The sequence of events that would lead to such a statement are hard to imagine: Either Dubé or the Flames organization made a concerted decision to not just withhold information but add an explicit statement about being "under the care of health professionals." Whoever was primarily responsible for the statement, they must have known that the news would come out eventually, as it did in the Globe & Mail report days later.

After the five players were confirmed on Tuesday, the Flames followed up with another statement. "We have now become aware of the charge of sexual assault that has been laid against Dillon Dubé," it read. "We take this matter very seriously. Because the matter is now pending legal proceedings, we will have no further comment at this time. We had no knowledge of pending charges at the time Dillon’s request for a leave of absence was granted."

Dubé's leave of absence was announced before any of the other players', so the Flames lacked the benefit of coincidence in knowing whether to pursue or provide further information. It should be noted, however, that Dubé's name was omnipresent in rumors well before this week's charges. The team's followup statement suggests that it was Dubé who came up with the "mental health" explanation, not the Flames. But the original statement was designed to presume good intentions and well-meaning actors, until subsequent reports established that was a hell of a presumption to make.

There's generally a lack of clarity on exactly how much organizations know about or investigate their own players, and the extent or limits of their responsibility to find out. In that context, the Flames either bear the burden of being intentionally misleading or foolishly naïve. Neither serves them well. The team has since followed the lead of the NHL—which has yet to make any statement since the announcement of the charges, though its own investigation remains unresolved—and settled on withholding comment due to "pending legal proceedings."

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