NHL let Florida Panthers handle abuse probe, discipline of former assistant Mike Kitchen

The NHL said it was aware of an incident where a Florida Panthers assistant coach allegedly kicked a player on the bench, but said that it left any investigation and punishment up to the team.

Canada's TSN reported this week that coach Mike Kitchen, 64, kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a Jan. 20 game between Florida and the Minnesota Wild. The report claimed that Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Dale Tallon were made aware of the incident after the game.

The Panthers announced this week that Kitchen would not return to their coaching staff next season, though they didn't specify why. After the incident, he remained on the staff through the March 12 "pause" due to COVID-19. Kitchen opted out of joining the team in the Toronto "bubble" for the restarted postseason. Florida was eliminated by the New York Islanders in the qualification round.

The alleged incident happened just over a month after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there was a "zero tolerance policy" for teams not informing the league of incidents of abuse.

"Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind," Bettman said at the December 2019 board of governors meeting in Pebble Beach, California. "Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel, on or off the ice, that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive or that may violate league policies, either [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly or me must be immediately advised."

Daly said the Panthers did reach out to the league about the incident.

"The team made me aware of the incident a while ago. We discussed with the team the appropriate approach," Daly told ESPN on Saturday. "The team conducted its own investigation and made its own decision."

Kitchen had been an assistant coach for 26 seasons, including with Quenneville on the Chicago Blackhawks bench from 2010 to 2017. He was head coach of the St. Louis Blues for 131 games from 2003-04 to 2006-07. He rejoined Quenneville in 2019-20, the head coach's first season in Florida.

Tallon's contract expired after the season, and he was replaced as general manager by Columbus assistant GM Bill Zito. Tallon is also under investigation by the NHL for allegedly using a racial slur while with the team in Toronto.