Where do the NHL & the Chicago Blackhawks go from here?

Jenner & Block LLP released the lengthy results of their investigation into allegations that Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich assaulted prospect Kyle Beach during the 2010 season. The allegations surfaced during their second-round series against Vancouver and Conference Final series against San Jose. Instead of making the allegations public and protecting the life of a young, promising hockey player, the executives and coaching staff decided to prioritize their playoff run. After submitting a lawsuit in May 2021, the Blackhawks launched an investigation into their handling of the allegations. Following the release of the Jenner & Block investigation, Kyle Beach came forward on a TSN interview to speak about the life-changing consequences that resulted from this terrible incident.

Three weeks ago, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke with Kyle Beach over Zoom. Susan Loggins, Beach’s attorney, said Bettman offered Beach help during their call, including therapy and psychological assistance. He also met with the Blackhawks on November 2 and spoke with Don Fehr, the executive director of the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players Association). The NHL fined the Chicago Blackhawks $2 million on Tuesday for, according to CNN, “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.”

Around the league, executives and coaches from the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks team are facing harsh punishments for the cover-up. However, the NHL decided not to discipline Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Chelyeldayoff though he was assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks when the allegations surfaced. He met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on October 29. According to ESPN, the NHL “concluded that Cheveldayoff was not responsible for the improper decisions made by the Chicago Blackhawks related to the Brad Aldrich matter in 2010, which decisions resulted in the Club’s delayed and inadequate response to a report of serious, inappropriate conduct as between Aldrich and the Blackhawk’s prospect, Kyle Beach.” Cheveldayoff was present at a meeting on May 23, 2010, where executives and coaching staff discussed and decided to cover up the allegations. 

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“While on some level, it would be easiest to paint everyone with any association to this terrible matter with some broad brush, I believe that fundamental fairness requires a more in-depth analysis of the role of each person. Kevin Cheveldayoff was not a member of the Blackhawks senior leadership team in 2010, and I cannot, therefore, assign to him responsibility, for the Club’ actions, or inactions. He provided a full account of his degree of involvement in the matter, which was limited exclusively to his attendance at a single meeting, and I found him to be extremely forthcoming and credible in our discussion.” With that said, Stan Bowman, general manager of the Blackhawks, and Joel Quenneville, head coach of the Florida Panthers and former head coach of the Blackhawks, resigned after pressure from the NHL.

Sadly, following Brad Aldrich’s exit from the Blackhawks, his horrible actions continued. In 2012 and 2018, sexual assault allegations against Aldrich surfaced from Miami (OH) University while he worked there. He went to Miami after leaving the Blackhawks but resigned after four months with the university. Excluding these allegations, Aldrich served nine months in prison after having sexual contact with a student at a Michigan high school. 

Within the National Hockey League, Don Fehr and the Players Association approved an independent investigation into their handling of the allegations. Fehr held a call between players and the league because the players were concerned about the handling of the situation. Beach contacted the NHLPA in 2010 and received no response from leadership.

Two weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune quoted Kyle Beach from his TSN interview: “I know I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA, who I was put in contact with after. I believe two different people talked to Don Fehr. And for him to turn his back on the players when his one job is to protect the players at all costs, I don’t know how that can be your leader. I don’t know how he can be in charge.” According to the Tribune, Beach spoke with a doctor at the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, which should have resulted in further action in 2010. 

Finally, Rocky Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, wrote a letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame suggesting the removal of Brad Aldrich’s name from the Stanley Cup. On November 3, the Hockey Hall of Fame crossed out his name while adding the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning to the trophy.

“While nothing can undo what he did, leaving his name on the most prestigious trophy in sports seems profoundly wrong,” Wirtz wrote in his letter.

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Stemming from the fan outrage directed at Gary Bettman, the NHL took more action than I thought they would. However, they need to do more to protect the players, and punishments need to be more serious to help prevent this from happening again. Ten years ago, the New Jersey Devils circumvented the salary cap by signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a massive 17-year, $102 million contract. The NHL fined New Jersey $3 million and rescinded a first and third-round draft selection. Also, last season, the NHL stripped the Arizona Coyotes of a 2020 second-round and 2021 first-round draft pick for breaking a scouting rule. I find it outrageous that the NHL subjected a more significant punishment for cap circumvention and illegal scouting than covering up a sexual assault and endangering the life of a young man. $2 million, especially for a Chicago Blackhawks team worth $1.1 billion, is a slap on the wrist. The NHL is famous for delivering cheap fines, especially to players, where penalties for serious offenses can range from only $2,500 to $5,000.

It seems Gary Bettman’s philosophy as commissioner is to keep his job for as long as he can. By delivering cheap punishments, he stays in his position and keeps the owners happy. Before the present-day NHL, where free agency did not exist and owners had complete control over their players, the commissioner did whatever the owners wanted. There was not a players’ association nor another league for them to play in. The NHL owned its players and made money off them to play hockey in the greatest league in the world. However, in 1972, two businessmen founded the World Hockey Association as the most significant competitor to the NHL. Though it folded after eight seasons, it forced the NHL to implement free agency and spread money between the owners and players. Still, the NHL is run the same way, with the commissioner doing what the owners want while angering the players to a point where there is nothing they can do. The fan outrage toward Gary Bettman is for a reason, yet the NHL owners will not do their job and vote him out.

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Other than that, the Blackhawks and other organizations have done their jobs to remove the 2010 executives from the league. Stan Bowman resigned as the Blackhawks general manager and president of the 2022 US Olympic men’s hockey team. Also, the Florida Panthers fired Joel Quenneville from his head coaching position, hopefully completely ridding him of another head coaching job. The only position left intact is Jonathan Toews as captain of the Blackhawks. Though a young man—he was only twenty-two at the time—the Blackhawks should not have named him captain if he did not have the leadership skills to step up in a challenging situation. If Beach’s allegations of verbal assault in the locker room are true, Toews must have known about it and decided to let it go. He should have gathered the team together and rallied around Beach to make the allegations widely known. It is challenging to place a young man in, but a captain needs to support his teammates, no matter the consequences.

Overall, the NHL needs to completely change its culture, whether in the executive office or ownership. Keeping players safe should be the number one priority instead of ensuring a profit for already wealthy owners. If the NHL wants to garner more fans and generate excitement for their brand, they need leadership focused on the players instead of the owners.

Alex Kwas is a freshman member of The Quill