The NHL’s head has defended the league’s disciplinary decisions in a Chicago Blackhawks investigation. Bettman maintains that his team acted appropriately when it handed out four suspensions for what would have been five games under normal circumstances.
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Commissioner Gary Bettman defended the NHL’s participation in the Chicago Blackhawks’ sexual assault investigation, including the league’s choices on further punishment for individuals implicated.
“We could not be more sad for Kyle’s ordeal,” Bettman stated on Monday. “And our aim is to do whatever it takes to keep moving ahead.”
The law firm Jenner & Block issued a study last week that outlined how the Blackhawks handled sexual assault complaints against former video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. Beach identified himself on Wednesday as “John Doe,” a former Blackhawks player who filed a complaint alleging that Aldrich sexually abused and harassed him during the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup run.
Chicago general manager Stan Bowman and senior VP of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, as well as Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who was coaching the Blackhawks at the time, all resigned as a consequence of the probe. All three attended meetings in 2010 to discuss how to address the claims, but failed to take action against Aldrich in a timely manner.
Bettman said Monday that he apologized to Beach for “all he has gone through” in a phone conversation on Saturday and offered him and his family services for treatment. The NHL plans to assist in the creation of a network of player-assistance organizations “to be available to the hockey community so that wherever you may be in the hockey ecosystem — minor league, pro, major junior, college, amateur, youth, minor hockey, male or female — we believe it’s important that everyone has an outlet for help,” he said.
The NHL has been chastised for its participation in the probe.
Bettman said that the NHL had not seen the report in any form prior to last Monday, and that the only information the organization had about the incident came from Beach’s lawsuit charges. The NHL was adamant that the Blackhawks enable an independent inquiry, and he claimed the league had the right to “override or seek any other course of action” if it wasn’t happy with how the probe was done.
Beach’s accusations from Chicago club general counsel concerning possible civil lawsuit were given to the league by the Blackhawks in December, according to Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. The league did nothing in the five months between the “heads-up” and Beach’s complaint being filed, according to Daly, because the Blackhawks felt the accusation had “no substance.”
The league didn’t learn the full extent of the claims until the civil complaint was filed in May.
Following the publication of the study, the league was also chastised for its conduct. The Blackhawks were fined $2 million by the NHL, which is a less severe penalty than other NHL clubs have gotten for breaking salary-cap or draft-combine regulations, which resulted in draft choice losses and financial penalties.
“People have questioned the magnitude of the fine,” Bettman said, “but it was hefty by any metric.”
Bettman disputed with similarities to prior sanctions, saying, “It sends a message to all clubs about how I see their organization obligations.”
“The context and circumstances for the others were different. This was done to make it evident that the Blackhawks’ handling of the situation was wrong, despite the fact that ownership was unaware “he said “It was also a message to the rest of the league that you have to make sure your organization is working appropriately on these issues,” he said.
The NHL was also chastised for not intervening to prevent Quenneville from coaching a Panthers game against the Boston Bruins on the eve of his meeting with Bettman the following day in New York City.
However, Bettman backed Quenneville’s decision not to be suspended permanently.
“I guess people might disagree on that, but he’d already coached 867 games since 2010, and I didn’t want anybody, especially Coach Quenneville, to think I’d prejudged him,” Bettman said. “Once again, folks might disagree, but I was thinking long term, not just that one game.”
Beach gave a tearful interview on TSN, which Bettman described as “horrifying” and “distressing.”
Bettman also justified his decision not to reprimand Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who worked as an assistant general manager with the Blackhawks in 2010 and was present at the Aldrich meeting.
“He did not, in my opinion, bear any responsibility for the club’s failure to behave responsibly. There appears to be some confusion, and if I was not clear on that previously, I apologize, but there appears to be some confusion on the point of whether he should have felt free to speak up despite his lack of power, position, or seniority, despite his lack of power, position, or seniority “Bettman remarked. “However, due to his limited power and circumstances, he left the meeting expecting that his superiors would examine the situation, and when Aldrich parted ways with the team, he assumed that was the case.”
Bettman also maintained the Blackhawks’ claim that they were not informed about the claims.
“I believe it is apparent that top management chose not to deal with this, not to speak about it, and not to inform ownership,” he added. “I believe that in this scenario, and as we have repeatedly emphasized to the clubs, the employees who work for you perform their duties. You’re in charge of what happens. You must be aware of what is going on in your company and take proper action when inappropriate behavior occurs.
“At the very least, this should serve as a wake-up call for all clubs: Make sure you know what’s going on in your organization, because you’re going to be held accountable.”
The inquiry has left some questions unanswered. On Monday afternoon, the NHL Players’ Association executive board will meet with executive director Don Fehr to address the NHLPA’s actions when Beach’s complaints were brought to their attention.
Before the meeting, one NHL senior player told ESPN: “I believe the lads are enraged. Fehr has a real grudge towards him because of the Beach incident.”
On Tuesday, Cheveldayoff and Jets owner Mark Chipman will meet with media. There’s also Beach’s continuing legal claim against the Blackhawks, which the club is still fighting in court.
Bettman was asked if he had any advice for Blackhawks supporters who may struggle to support the club in the future.
“I believe others, like us, will be dismayed, saddened, and shocked by what transpired,” he added. “But realize that we’ve tried to be as open as possible, and that disciplinary action has been taken to address the things that were done incorrectly.” That we have processes, training, and counseling in place, even before this, to guarantee that the hockey culture does not promote, and in fact bans, this sort of behaviour.
“As we go ahead, we will have to be assessed. I believe that when all of the circumstances are considered, the image paints a grim picture; nonetheless, we must go ahead as best we can, doing the right things. In terms of dealing with the events that have occurred, or how we will proceed.”
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