NHL’s handling of Blackhawks scandal shows league still hasn’t moved on
Inside the NHL
There is an expression I quickly got used to as I recently covered the Kraken that sounds like a greeting but is dripping with sarcasm.
âWelcome to the NHL. ”
It’s a de facto response from those who have long covered or worked in the league and has universally applied to many puzzle situations of varying severity.
After covering Major League Baseball for 16 seasons, a few Super Bowls, and writing a book about the Sounders, I thought I got a feel for what the NHL experience could entail. The reality has been somewhat telling when you consider that the NHL has long been only number 4 among North America’s major professional men’s sports leagues.
You’d think the NHL would be eager to grow beyond that, even if it never happens.
Instead, there is a âtake it or leave itâ attitude permeating much of league operations. About five or six years ago, Commissioner Gary Bettman, at a selective meeting in New York with various sports editors from newspapers I attended, described the attitude as “comfortable in our own.” skin “.
This means the NHL knows it has a cool product and won’t seek acceptance from people who reject it for not being the NFL, MLB, or NBA. As a transplanted Canadian who grew up playing hockey, I admired the approach.
But he has limits. Especially with the league launching a new national television deal with ESPN and TNT, seeking wider appeal.
The time is fast approaching when the NHL must decide whether it is ready to evolve into a true major professional sport. Or stubbornly clinging to the ideals of a bygone era in which he cannot get out of his own way.
In an age of increased openness of leagues and teams in search of market share, NHL clubs nurture an obsessive, almost paranoid desire for insularity and secrecy. And this attitude of keeping everything “at home” has often come back to harm him.
Case in point: The ongoing Chicago Blackhawks scandal involving former video coach Brad Aldrich accused of sexually assaulting player Kyle Beach in 2010. Much of what the NHL suffered last week was largely preventable.
Details of an investigation ordered by the Blackhawks and released Tuesday last week revealed that Chicago senior management and coach Joel Quenneville were briefed on Beach’s allegations against Aldrich in a six-person meeting. right after the team qualified for the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. But they put it off after the championship round – not wanting to distract the team.
Aldrich stayed with the Blackhawks for three more weeks throughout his championship and the celebrations that followed. During a celebratory event, according to the report, Aldrich got hold of a 22-year-old team intern in an unwanted sexual advance.
Then, after the Blackhawks allowed Aldrich to quietly quit in June 2010, he pleaded guilty in 2013 to fourth-degree sexual misconduct with a minor at a high school where he had volunteered to coach.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and senior vice president Al MacIssac, who attended the 2010 meeting, immediately resigned after the report was released. That left two others from the game still employed in the NHL, former Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Quenneville, the second-most victorious coach in NHL history, moved to the Florida Panthers. And Cheveldayoff had become general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.
Bettman has announced he will seek explanations from both, starting with Quenneville last Thursday. But inexplicably, he allowed Quenneville to coach Florida’s game the day before their scheduled meeting.
The decision exploded when Beach – a former Everett Silvertips player who had remained anonymous throughout – came forward an hour before the Florida game in an explosive TV interview on TSN in Canada. Beach tearfully described being raped by Aldrich – who disputes it, claiming consensual sexual activity between them – and said Quenneville knew about it.
The interview was heartbreaking. But an hour later, with the online interview, there was Quenneville behind the Florida bench.
Anyone watching Beach’s interview knew this would be Quenneville’s last game, so the surreal specter of a âwalking dead manâ coach was once again a must-see NHL moment. Indeed, Quenneville resigned after meeting Bettman.
In a conference call with members of the media on Monday, Bettman attempted to explain that he had let Quenneville coach this game, saying, âI wanted to make sure that no one, including Coach Quenneville, could to say that I had prejudged it. “
Of course, NHL players are routinely kept out of play before league hearings. Quenneville also apparently lied in a public statement in July about the lack of awareness of the allegations against Aldrich.
Cheveldayoff made much the same claims of knowing nothing in 2010. Yet Bettman, faced with the reality that Cheveldayoff attended the 2010 meeting and was fully aware of the allegations, nonetheless allowed him to keep his job at the Jets.
Bettman reasoning: Cheveldayoff as deputy general manager at the time was just a “minor player” with “limited responsibilities” to follow. Which begs the question, of course, of why he was included in the reunion to begin with.
Naturally, that doesn’t play well in the court of public opinion, to which those who know the league will shrug their shoulders and say, “Welcome to the NHL.”
Of course, other leagues have scandals. It’s just that the NHL seems to inflict more unnecessary harm on itself than most.
It took decades for the NHL to literally eliminate street skating brawls during games. Even longer so that Europeans and players of color are better accepted in the ranks of the league.
In August 2020, when the league was already grappling with the fallout from Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters’ alleged racist comments against black player Akim Aliu when the two were in the minor leagues a decade earlier, another âWelcome to the NHLâ moment has come. . The police shooting against Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, prompted the NBA, WNBA, MLS and some MLB teams to postpone games because athletes refused to play.
The NHL was widely criticized for playing games at the time. It wasn’t until the next day, triggered by a group of players approaching the league, that hockey also ceased.
And now, as then, maybe it will be up to the NHL players to demand more. They may start with their own players’ association after Chief Donald Fehr ordered an investigation into why his union apparently also ignored reports that Aldrich abused Beach.
There are also swirling reports that the entire Blackhawks team had known for years that Aldrich had done something wrong, but kept quiet and even ridiculed Beach.
Despite all the claims that the NHL has moved on social issues and attitudes since 2010, those whose inaction perpetrated this Blackhawk cover-up still kept their secrets until very recently. It shouldn’t be a ‘comfortable in our own skin’ time for Bettman, management or the players.
If anything, their skin should itch for an additional change. To align a league too often surrounded by secretive, sometimes abusive behavior, with the values ââof the modern fan base it is supposed to want to develop.
Only then will âWelcome to the NHLâ make sense beyond a sarcastic retort.