Hockey is bracing for the next development in a scandal that has rocked the sport and led to multiple investigations into the actions of several prominent NHL players who were on Canada's gold-medal winning 2018 world junior team.
Police in London, Ontario, scheduled a news conference for Feb. 5 to provide details about its sexual assault investigation involving members of Canada's world junior team. Five players on that 2018 team in recent days have taken leaves of absence from their current NHL or European clubs amid a report that they've been asked to surrender to police to face sexual assault charges.
Here's a look at the situation as it stands now:
A woman sued Hockey Canada in 2022, alleging she was sexually assaulted by eight members of Canada's world junior team at a fundraising gala in London in 2018. Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit, and then an investigation revealed the organization had two secret slush funds to pay out settlements on claims of sexual assault and abuse.
London police launched an internal review in July 2022, and the NHL said it would conduct its own independent investigation into what happened because some active players were on that team and attended the gala. Commissioner Gary Bettman pledged to release the findings once completed.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in June said the investigation was complete and expected a report by midsummer that the league would then review. So far, the NHL has not released the findings.
The Globe & Mail reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources, that five members of that world junior team were asked to surrender to London police. In the last week, five players were granted an indefinite leave of absence for various reasons given by their current teams.
Daly told The Associated Press by email Wednesday the league would issue a statement when it is appropriate.
The players who stepped away were Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames and former NHL player Alex Formenton, who's now playing in Europe.
Personal reasons were cited by the Flyers for Hart and Swiss club HC Ambri-Piotta for Formenton. Ambri-Piotta said Formenton was allowed to return to Canada. The Flames said Dube was granted leave to address his mental health.
A spokesperson for London police wouldn't confirm the report Wednesday when contacted by The Associated Press. "When there is an update to provide, we will share with media outlets," Sgt. Sandasha Bough said.
Messages left for the agents representing all five players and multiple messages sent to Hart's lawyer seeking comment have not been returned. The NHL Players' Association declined to comment.
It's not uncommon in Canada for police to provide significant time for anyone facing charges to surrender, which helps explain why the next update out of London is set for early February. It's scheduled two days after the NHL's All-Star Weekend in Toronto.
It's unclear when the NHL will release its findings, though Daly has repeatedly deferred to London police's investigation, so waiting for charges to be announced wouldn't be surprising.
The teams are planning to compete without those players for the foreseeable future. Flyers general manager Daniel Briere, at a pre-scheduled midseason news conference Wednesday, read a statement and had few answers to follow-up questions about Hart's absence.
"We are aware of this morning's press reports on a very serious matter," Briere said. "We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigations are made public. The NHL has been very clear that teams should refer all investigation-related questions to them. In the meantime, members of the organization, including Flyers players, will not be commenting any further. That's all we can say at the moment, unfortunately."
For the players, no one knows. If any players are convicted of sexual assault, Canadian law includes jail-time sentences, depending on several factors, including the age of the alleged victim.
There's some precedent for what punishment the NHL could dole out as far as suspensions for off-ice misconduct. Bettman has wide latitude to make decisions in the interest of the game. There is an appeals process through the Players' Association and an arbitrator jointly hired by the league and union to rule on disputes, when necessary.
The league in 2019 suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov for the 2019-20 season and ensuing playoffs after determining he committed acts of domestic violence.
Hockey Canada has already lost several sponsors, including Nike, and its CEO and board resigned in 2022 in the wake of this and other scandals.