Welcome back to my weekly NHL notebook, where we take a glance at the league and address some of the trending stories and highlights that fans are (or should be) talking about. This week was a powerful yet gut-wrenching one for the NHL, so this week’s notebook will focus on the fallout of the sexual assault lawsuit against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Of course, the big story this week surrounded the findings of an investigation surrounding the Blackhawks and the team’s cover-up of sexual assault(s) committed by former video coach Brad Aldrich back in 2010. That investigation found that general manager and president of hockey operations Stan Bowman was culpable as was vice president of hockey ops Al MacIsaac. Both were pushed out the door this week as a result of the findings.
But the investigation also implicated Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff — both of whom held prominent leadership positions with the 2010 Blackhawks and were seemingly aware that at least one player had come forward in the immediate aftermath of the alleged assault. I detailed some of the findings and weighed in on the Quenneville/Cheveldayoff blowback in a column published Wednesday, but here’s the short of it:
Both Quenneville and Cheveldayoff said they were unaware of the allegations until a lawsuit was filed this past summer. However, the investigation placed both men at a 2010 meeting in which the situation was discussed by several members of Blackhawks leadership. Ultimately, it was decided that the issue would be ignored until the end of the team’s playoff run so as not to disrupt the club’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
Not only was Aldrich allowed to remain with the team and celebrate the championship with the players, but he also was allowed to quietly leave the organization after the season and received glowing recommendations from members of the staff, including Quenneville.
Those findings were horrifying and rightfully led to Gary Bettman scheduling in-person meetings to determine the futures of Quenneville and Cheveldayoff. Shortly after his meeting with Bettman on Thursday, Quenneville resigned as Panthers head coach. Cheveldayoff will meet with the commissioner on Friday.
What also was shameful was how these other teams shielded these men, particularly with regards to Quenneville.
After the results of the investigation were made public and the meeting with Bettman was scheduled, the Panthers allowed Quenneville to continue coaching the team, including being behind the bench for Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins. Given the severity and sensitivity of the situation — and the fact that his job status was very much up in the air — it was ridiculous that Quenneville would be allowed to continue as if it was business as usual.
On top of that, Quenneville was not made available for media access following that game against Boston, and that only comes off as cowardice. Whether or not the decision came at the advice of counsel, he shouldn’t be coaching until he’s willing to face and answer questions about his role in the cover-up. Once again, it has the repugnant stench of prioritizing winning hockey games over doing what’s right.
Quenneville and Cheveldayoff look a whole lot worse today than they did a week ago. It's going to be hard to interpret any potential signs of remorse or accountability from either of them as genuine. At this point, it’ll probably only feel like a desperate ploy to save face and/or employment.
Blackhawks players speak
On one hand, it was cowardly that Quenneville wouldn’t face the media. On the other hand, a few Blackhawks players showed that speaking to the media doesn’t automatically put you in the right, either.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — the two biggest faces of the franchise who had central roles on the 2010 championship team — were made available on Wednesday night. Some of the things they said were tone deaf, at best.
Let’s start with Toews.
I really don’t know how much clearer and simpler it needs to be conveyed: Actively aiding in the cover-up of a sexual assault does, in fact, make someone directly complicit. The fact that Blackhawks leadership knew of Aldrich’s behavior and further enabled it by not taking action to stop it in its tracks makes everyone involved complicit. Not only did that leadership group fail to protect the player(s) that came forward with allegations against Aldrich, but they also failed to protect any future victims — of which there were several.
Then there were these comments from Kane.
It’s nice that Kane acknowledges the unofficial firings as right and just, but it’s also pretty tone deaf to prop up Bowman as “a great man who did a lot for me personally” in the direct aftermath of this situation. Toews and Kane likely feel a sense of loyalty toward Bowman, and while it can sometimes be difficult to separate the person you know with the person who has been recently revealed, it’s not exactly a necessary or appropriate time for Toews and Kane to act as character witnesses for Bowman — especially after he showed a significant lack of accountability with his press release this week.
This isn’t necessarily meant to villainize Toews or Kane, but we should be allowed to criticize someone for being wrong, insensitive or tone deaf without suggesting they're an inherently bad person who only does bad things. There’s currently somewhat of a reckoning regarding the coaches and executives who allowed this behavior to play out, and at some point, attention may turn toward fleshing out how much the victim’s teammates knew and contributed to the situation. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask for some sensitivity and accountability.
But for what it’s worth, one of the Blackhawks’ younger players, Alex DeBrincat, struck the right tone.
Age doesn’t necessarily define leadership.
Credit to Kyle Beach
So much of this week has been spent trying to comprehend how and why this entire situation happened the way that it did and why it took so long for anyone to truly be held accountable. There’s been a lot of anger, shock and disgust, and that’s all fair.
But we also need to take some time to appreciate Kyle Beach, the former player who came forward as the “John Doe” in the lawsuit against the Blackhawks. His lawsuit brought the cover-up into the public light and finally forced those who orchestrated it to face the consequences. He also showcased a tremendous amount of courage by offering his face and name this week.
It takes a remarkable amount of bravery, vulnerability and selflessness to come forward as a sexual abuse survivor in such a public manner — and especially within a sport that’s often dominated by toxic masculinity and a culture of no inclusivity. Whether he recognizes it or not, Beach’s willingness to come forward provides others who may find themselves in a similar position with a source of strength and inspiration. Hopefully, his resolve helps inflict a meaningful and lasting change within the league and the overall culture of the sport. And hopefully, he is able to find some peace and healing along the way.