Inside the NHL
Tuesday will go down in NHL infamy, marking a stunning fall for some of the league’s bigger front-office names and one legacy “Original Six” team stemming from an alleged cover-up of a 2010 sexual-assault claim by a Chicago Blackhawks player.
When the initial dust settled from a 107-page Jenner & Block law firm independent report released midmorning, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and senior vice president Al MacIssac had resigned. The team was fined $2 million by the NHL for “mishandling” claims brought its way.
But that could be just the start. In fact, more repercussions likely will be necessary if the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman hope to get out of this with some integrity and credibility intact.
Bettman already had been criticized last spring for not being more involved and allowing the Blackhawks to effectively pay for an investigation of themselves. It was handled by former federal prosecutor Reid J. Schar and absolves team ownership but brought the hammer down on most top Blackhawks executives at the time and their then-coach.
Among the report’s suggested culprits were former Chicago coach and current Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville and ex-Blackhawks assistant GM and current Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. They were said to have been warned that the 2010 team’s then-video coach, Brad Aldrich, was potentially abusing a player.
Quenneville and Chevaldayoff released statements in July claiming no knowledge of Aldrich’s actions at the time.
But the report contradicts that, stating that Quenneville, Chevaldayoff, Bowman, MacIssac, Blackhawks Executive VP Jay Blunk and team president John McDonough were given a summary of alleged actions by Aldrich with the unidentified player at a May 23, 2010 senior-management meeting an hour after Chicago had advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite conflicting accounts of what was said and whether details of the sexual-assault claim were provided in the meeting, the report concluded that, at a minimum, the senior leaders “were informed of alleged sexual harassment of a player by a coach, including efforts by the coach to engage in unwelcome sexual activity with that player.”
But according to the report’s findings, the Blackhawks, seeking their first Cup title since 1961, delayed taking action until after the playoffs. That decision, according to the report, at minimum violated the team’s sexual-harassment reporting policy.
In the interim, Aldrich continued to travel with the Blackhawks.
After Chicago beat Philadelphia in six games for the championship, Aldrich was allowed to participate in team victory parties and public Stanley Cup celebrations, during which — according to Tuesday’s report — he was alleged to have made an unwanted sexual advance in which he “physically touched” a 22-year-old intern in an incident that wasn’t reported to anyone.
It wasn’t until four days later, on June 14, 2010, that Aldrich was reported to the team’s human-resources department concerning his conduct with the Blackhawks player. The report said he was told on June 16, 2010 that he could either be investigated for the allegations or leave the team, which he did.
On Quenneville and Chevaldayoff, NHL commissioner Bettman said Tuesday that he plans to “arrange personal meetings in the near future with both to discuss their roles in the relevant events as detailed in the report.”
The resignations by Bowman and MacIssac mean none of the senior-management members at the May 2010 meeting remains with the Blackhawks. Most front-office members from that period have either been let go or departed on their own, as did current Kraken player personnel director Norm MacIver — Chicago’s assistant player personnel director in 2010.
MacIver wasn’t named in Tuesday’s report but said by text he assisted with the investigation. “I was scouting for the Blackhawks during this period and was on the road,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of the incident until years later.”
A lawsuit filed by the former Blackhawks player — then a 20-year-old minor-leaguer called up as a potential injury replacement for the playoffs — alleged Aldrich engaged in a sexual encounter with him under the threat of preventing him from playing another NHL game if he told anyone. The player repeated his claims to Schar’s investigation. Aldrich also was interviewed, the report stating he denied any coercion and claimed the sexual activity was consensual.
The scope of what remains to come out could further damage the NHL following events from two years ago, when the league was forced to confront longstanding allegations of racism and psychological and physical abuse of players by coaches.
This time, the Blackhawks under Bowman are accused of covering up a potential crime and harming others amid the fallout.
After Aldrich left the team, the allegations against him were never reported to law enforcement. He kept coaching in colleges and high schools.
While a volunteer coach with a Michigan high school in 2013, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
That person has filed a lawsuit accusing the Blackhawks of negligence. When details within both lawsuits went public last spring, it prompted calls for an investigation that led to Tuesday’s report.
And now, the legacy of one of the league’s six original franchises from pre-1968 NHL expansion has likely been indelibly tarnished. Same with the on-ice feats of the 2010 Blackhawks, which launched one of the NHL’s last true dynasties with Cup repeats in 2013 and 2015.
The architect of those three titles, Bowman, is the son of legendary NHL figure Scotty Bowman, who at 1,244 victories is the league’s all-time winningest coach. Quenneville, who coached all three championships, is second in all-time wins among NHL coaches at 968.
And like Stan Bowman, Quenneville comes off looking very bad in the report.
It states that at the 2010 senior-management meeting, Quenneville and Blackhawks team president McDonough made comments about how hard it was to reach a Cup Final and the need to keep focused on the playoff run.
“Several witnesses recalled or later told others about a discussion that ensued during the meeting regarding whether the time was right to address the allegations against Aldrich in light of the need to protect team chemistry and avoid bad publicity during the ongoing playoffs,” the report states.
So that should be quite the meeting Bettman has with Quenneville and Chevaldayoff, the only ones from that 2010 meeting room still holding NHL jobs. But whatever comes of it, it’s difficult to imagine both men, the Blackhawks and their three-Cup run ever being viewed with the same reverence.
As for Bettman, he can’t be worried about trivial things such as sports legacies. His job, through whatever action he now takes, must be ensuring no team on his watch tries anything this negligent — and dangerous to others — ever again.