By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
For those of you, who, in High School, had to read “Dante’s Inferno” (by Dante Alighieri), you may recall going page-by-page through the nine circles of Hell the poem describes.
For those of you who have followed the continued bungling of the Kyle Beach situation in Chicago, you may find yourself asking if you’re trapped in the poem. You see, each day seems to bring with it yet another piece of fallout that, just when you think things can’t get worse, it does.
Before I dissect the latest news on the Chicago Scandal front, I’d like to first say to Kyle Beach, while I’ve never met or spoken to you, as part of the hockey world, I am sorry you have had to go through this the past 11-years. I can only hope that at the end of this nightmare, you will find the justice and help you are seeking.
Now for the latest.
The NHL held a press conference on Monday to allow the media to ask Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly about the league’s handling of the Blackhawks. Here are some of the takeaway.
1) $2M Fine is Nowhere Near Enough
When the Jenner & Block Law Firm released its findings last week, the NHL penalized the Blackhawks $2M for the organization’s mishandling of the 2010 sexual assault allegations made by Beach in regards to then Video Coach, Brad Aldrich.
Not only is the $2M fine less than what the league fined the Devils when New Jersey was caught circumventing the salary cap with Ilya Kovalchuk’s absurdly long contract several years ago, but it is also nowhere close to painful enough.
“People have debated the amount of the fine,” Bettman told the media, “but it was substantial by any measure. It sends a message to all clubs about how I view their organization responsibilities.”
Question Commissioner, how does $2M send a message to all NHL clubs when many make more than that in a single game night and every team is worth substantially more than that?
The only message this sends is that circumventing the salary cap is worse than covering up a sexual assault. And that’s not right.
2) Kevin Cheveldayoff Goes Unpunished Why?
Look, I have not a single ax to grind with the Jets’ current General Manager, but how on this planet Earth did he escape any sort of punishment? Cheveldayoff, by his own admission, was in the fateful meeting on May 23, 2010, in which the allegations against Aldrich first came to light and were then covered up.
All other parties who were present in that meeting are now out of jobs. So why is the Jets’ GM allowed to remain? Bettman says Cheveldayoff was a Junior Executive at the time, in a meeting with his senior superiors, so he shouldn’t be held to the same level.
I’m sorry, but how does that make sense? Joel Quenneville was the Head Coach of that Blackhawks team and he was present in the meeting. Last I checked, the Assistant GM is higher on the food chain than the Head Coach. Last week, Quenneville resigned in disgrace from being the Panthers’ Head Coach — he should have been fired.
Even if Cheveldayoff deserved a lighter burden of blame — newsflash, he should shoulder just as much blame as the rest — than at least suspend him to show that your sermons about holding people accountable aren’t just hollow words.
It’s like this. Just because a co-conspirator in a criminal case voluntarily walks into the Prosecutor’s office to admit they were present for a crime, that doesn’t mean they should be let off the hook. Many times they cut a deal for a lighter sentence.
Well, where’s Cheveldayoff’s lighter sentence? All I see is no sentence.
As an aside, Cheveldayoff and Jets Ownership are expected to meet with the media on Tuesday.
3) Joel Quenneville Was Allowed to Coach Because…
The Jenner & Block report was released last Tuesday. Kyle Beach came forward to reveal himself as John Doe early Wednesday evening. Joel Quenneville was scheduled to meet with Bettman on Thursday and in the meantime, he coached the Panthers on Wednesday night. That’s the timeline of events.
Many were shocked and outraged when the league and the Panthers did not step in to prevent Quenneville from coaching on Wednesday night; just shy of an hour after Kyle Beach’s emotional interview in which he identified his former Coach as one of the people who was in the cover up meeting.
On Monday, Bettman told the media, “He had already coached 867 games since 2010 and I wanted to make sure that no one, including Coach Quenneville, could say that I had pre-judged him. People can disagree on this.”
Excuse me? Are players not suspended pending a hearing with the league in some circumstances? Nobody would have claimed Bettman “pre-judged” Quenneville had he or the league ordered the Panthers to not let him coach on Wednesday night. Rather, Bettman would have been praised for doing the right thing.
It’s small things like this that get people so angry at the NHL. Do the bare minimum right and you buy yourself time on matters like this. But when you don’t even do the bare minimum, that’s when things snowball.
4) The NHL Knew in December and Did Nothing
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly informed the press that the Blackhawks told the league in December of 2020 about a possible civil litigation. Daly then said Chicago told the NHL the case “had no merit.” He continued by explaining the league learned about the specific allegations in May once the civil suit was filed.
So, from December 2020 to May 2021, the NHL chose to do…nothing. Even if the league took Chicago at its word that the case had “no merit,” at the very least, it should have done a cursory investigation of its own just to be sure.
Again, it goes back to doing the bare minimum right and somehow not even managing to do that.
5) Dodging Reporter Is A Bad Optic
If the lawyer-speak and non-answers weren’t bad enough, the NHL continually dodged taking a question from TSN’s Rick Westhead, who has been the main reporter on the Kyle Beach story.
Yes, there’s a pecking order in most of these press conferences. The most prominent reporters get their questions answered first and they get to ask enough questions to satisfy their needs. Then comes everybody else. It’s an unwritten rule type of thing. But in this case, how, for 45+ minutes could the league justify not taking a question from the main reporter on this story?
It took NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun (virtually) standing up and forcing the NHL’s hand to get Westhead to, eventually, be allowed to ask a question.
I’ll say this, NHL Insiders almost never give up the ability to ask more of their own questions. They’d normally rather cut off their own arms or legs than give up the opportunity to get more information. But kudos to LeBrun for recognizing how important Westhead has been to the reporting of this story and for using his “influence” to make sure Westhead was heard from; even if it came almost an hour after he should have been allowed to speak.
6) Foot in Mouth Disease
A simple “yes” would have sufficed.
During the course of his presser, Bettman told the media the league would extend its counseling and hot line services to all levels of hockey. But when he was asked specifically about counseling for Aldrich’s second victim, a then-16-year-old teenager in Michigan in 2013, who was only put in that situation because the Blackhawks hadn’t properly handled things in 2010, Bettman essentially put his foot in his mouth.
The Commissioner hemmed and hawed while saying he needed to “know more information” before making a decision in that particular matter. Again a simple “yes” would have sufficed and it would have portrayed the NHL in a good light.
Aldrich went to prison for what he did to that Michigan teenager. What more information is needed?
7) NHLPA Executive Director on Thin Ice?
The Executive Director of the NHLPA is Don Fehr. On Monday, the Players Associations’ Executive Board convened for a meeting amidst rumors that a growing number of members are angry with Fehr about his own failures in Kyle Beach’s case.
While there was no immediate vote to remove Fehr, one has to wonder if his days are numbered. And as much as I’m personally a fan of his right hand man, Mathieu Schneider, I get the sense, from talking to multiple sources, that if Fehr gets the boot, it won’t be Schneider who gets the top job.
However, the Board did decide to launch an independent investigation — to be conducted by outside legal counsel — into the handling of Kyle Beach’s situation. So stay tuned for more on that front.
In other News…
1) Fox Strikes Gold
Monday Night the Rangers announced they signed star defenseman Adam Fox to a seven-year/$66.5M ($9.5M AAV) contract extension. It was really just a formality the two sides would get a deal done considering how much Fox loves being a Ranger and how much he means to the team. Not to mention, he would have been an RFA this summer if he didn’t sign an extension by then.
What this means for the Rangers’ cap situation is that the next couple of years will be very tight, at least until the cap starts to incrementally increase. With Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba all signed to expensive long-term deals, the team is going to have to get creative to fill out certain parts of its roster. While fringe players/fourth-line types can be found cheaply, a second-line center won’t be so easy.
Ryan Strome is going to be a UFA this summer and the Rangers likely don’t have the ability to sign him given that he’s sure to want a raise over his current AAV of $4.5M. And even if the Blueshirts managed to somehow get Strome to agree to a new deal with an AAV of around $5.5M (no chance that happens), then they will almost assuredly lose Kaapo Kakko to an offer sheet should a team come along and sign him to one.
That’s all trouble down the road though, so just enjoy the fact that Fox is staying in New York for a long time.
2) Hockey Fights Cancer Month
Since we’re now in the month of November, it’s the NHL’s annual Hockey Fights Cancer Month. Having personally known too many people who have dealt with cancer I can only say that whether you are a fan at home, on the road, or at the arena, please stand up for those battling cancer.
3) The Hockey Maven Does It Again
It has come to my attention that “The Hockey Maven,” Stan Fischler, has written yet another book. His latest, “Tales of Brooklyn” is sure to be a page turner as Fischler details what it was like growing up in Brooklyn during the 1930s/1940s/1950s.
From The Maven: “My new book, TALES OF BROOKLYN, is coming out soon (ebook 11/5, print book 12/9). I immensely enjoyed writing these tales and any fans of Brooklyn, hockey, trains or my career will enjoy them too. This book is a FUN read and these stories are really meaningful in light of what became my life’s work. Readers will laugh, cry and everything in between.”
The book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.
That wraps things up for this week’s Blittner’s Blue Line, see you all next week.