Washington Capitals left wing Chris Simon, who likely will receive an extended suspension from the NHL today for a racial epithet he made against Edmonton Oilers forward Mike Grier, flew to Toronto last night and apologized to Grier personally.
Simon met with Grier after the Oilers played in Buffalo against the Sabres early yesterday evening, Grier said. The Oilers, who have been on a six-game road trip, bused to Toronto after the game, where Simon met them.
"He said I'm sorry' several times, and I believed him," Grier told Edmonton reporters after the meeting. "He had a very sincere look in his eye and his manner about him seemed honest. It takes a stand-up person to come out here and deal with the situation as quickly as he did. I accept his apology."
Still, Simon and General Manager George McPhee, who accompanied Simon to Toronto, will fly to New York today to attend a 1 p.m. hearing with NHL senior vice president Brian Burke. Burke, who already suspended Simon before Sunday's game against the Florida Panthers, will determine any additional punishment for the incident. Simon called Grier a two-word phrase combining an obscenity with a racial epithet after Saturday's game between their teams. Simon, born in Wawa, Canada, is a Native American of the Ojibwa Tribe. Grier, born in Detroit, is black.
Burke made his initial ruling after talking to Simon and two on-ice officials who heard the remark. Simon has not commented on the situation publicly, saying he wanted to wait until after the hearing, but Grier said after meeting with Simon that "there is nothing I'm looking for or not looking for to come out of his hearing. I think he's pretty broken up about everything."
Yesterday, Capitals owner Abe Pollin and McPhee expressed regret for the epithet. Pollin, who is Jewish, told The Post's Tony Kornheiser that he could empathize with Grier because "I've been subjected to antisemitism. . . . I'm prepared to have him apologize to the appropriate people."
Pollin also told Kornheiser that Simon would "apologize to the citizens of Washington and fans of the Capitals" and that "it might also be appropriate for him to do some community service. "We all make mistakes," he said. "I'm prepared to forgive him."
McPhee said the Capitals would wait until after today's hearing to determine what, if any, internal punishment Simon will face. There is no precedent to indicate how severely the NHL will punish Simon, although some league sources feel Simon's case may be used to make a statement. The NHL issued a specific directive prohibiting ethnic slurs last December, and the policy was re issued to all clubs during the first week of the season.
Still, McPhee said he hopes Simon's case is treated as an isolated situation. "This is a singular incident, and obviously something has to be done because Chris went over the line, but I think the league will be reasonable," McPhee said. "It's certainly a very regrettable incident. The remark was insensitive, inconsiderate and totally unacceptable. We wish to express our regret to Mike Grier and his family and to all hockey fans."
There are six black players in the NHL, and the league has become increasingly multinational in the past decade. Washington in particular is known as a multi-ethnic team. Grier, who also was a victim of a racial epithet while playing at Boston University, said hearing the slur from a fellow minority has "raised my awareness more. Maybe it's something I've got to stand on my toes about for as long as I play in this league. Maybe it's more of an issue than I thought."
Several of Simon's teammates declined to comment on the situation, although it was certainly a topic of conversation Sunday before the Capitals lost to Florida, 3-2. After the game, however, players seemed more focused on the opportunity they had blown. Washington (9-7-2) was leading the Panthers 2-1 in the third period and gave up the winning goal with just 29 seconds remaining. CAPTION: SIMON CAPTION: Oilers' Mike Grier, left, celebrates his goal against Sabres last night. Later he received an apology for the epithet from Capitals' Chris Simon in person.