Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday defended the NHL’s decisions and discipline meted out following an investigation into the Chicago Blackhawks' handling of sexual assault allegations in 2010.
Bettman called the organization’s $2 million fine significant and stood by decisions to let Joel Quenneville coach one more game and not discipline Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff based on his limited role in Chicago’s front office at the time. Quenneville resigned as Florida Panthers coach after meeting with Bettman last week.
In his first public comments since the report detailing the Blackhawks investigation was released, Bettman said he did not want anyone to think he was prejudging Quenneville, who was Chicago's coach when allegations surfaced that video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted prospect Kyle Beach 11 years ago.
“While it may have optically not been the best look, I was more concerned with the substance than the look,” Bettman said.
Asked if Quenneville was given any kind of ultimatum, Bettman said, “Joel ultimately included that the most sensible course of action was for him to resign.”
Cheveldayoff is the only person in Blackhawks management at the time who still works for an NHL club. Cheveldayoff was present at a meeting about Beach's allegations in May 2010, but the report by former federal prosecutor Reid Schar indicated the former assistant GM was the only one who recalled he was even there.
“Kevin was such a minor player in this,” Bettman said. "He had been with the Blackhawks for nine months. He was an assistant general manager with fairly limited responsibilities. This was not something that he not only had no responsibility for — that based on what was available to him in his minor, relatively, position at the time, he had no reason to believe that anything other than the right things were going on.”
Cheveldayoff was scheduled to address reporters Monday, though that was pushed back by the Jets because owner Mark Chipman suffered a bout of vertigo over the weekend and insisted on being there for the news conference.
The executive board of the NHL Players’ Association also met Monday to discuss how the union apparently ignored Beach's situation when it was brought to officials' attention a decade ago. Executive director Don Fehr recommended outside counsel launch a review into what happened — something the executive board was expected to approve by vote. The voting could not be completed during the meeting because several members had to prepare to play Monday night.
Players in recent days expressed concern over the NHLPA's handling of Beach's allegations, even though he wasn't technically a member because he never played in an NHL game. Schar's investigation found that a confidant of Beach's reached out to the NHLPA, with nothing coming of it.
“I know I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA, who I was put in contact with after,” Beach said during his interview on TSN in Canada last week, his first since identifying himself as John Doe. “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.”
Fehr signed on as an NHLPA adviser in the summer of 2010 after Aldrich resigned rather than face a Blackhawks investigation. Fehr was named NHLPA executive director in December of that year.
In a statement last week, Fehr said the person Beach spoke with was a program doctor at the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, which while confidential should have resulted in further action because of its severity.
“The fact that it did not was a serious failure,” Fehr said. “There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system.”
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Monday the NHL first got a heads up about a potential lawsuit in December, though it was downplayed by Blackhawks counsel.
“(Blackhawks lawyers) claimed to have looked into it,” he said. “They said there was no merit.”
The first time the league learned of the specific allegations was May when the first suit was filed, according to Daly.
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