Bettman hits wrong notes in first press conference on Blackhawks scandal

NHL’s Gary Bettman and Bill Daly answer questions from the media in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault investigation involving Kyle Beach, who revealed himself as one of the victims of former Blackhawks' video coach Brad Aldrich.

In this horrendous developing story that is very much about pecking orders and the power of authority, it is important to remember whom Gary Bettman works for.

The owners.

Vincent Viola, owner of the Florida Panthers, will have a say in Bettman’s next raise. Viola sat idle as Joel Quenneville stepped behind his club’s bench to coach one final game (a win!) mere minutes after the Kyle Beach interview ripped through the hockey world like a brushfire of bravery and actual emotion.

Mark Chipman -- chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Winnipeg Jets -- had a say in the last one. Chipman accompanied his only general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, to a meeting with Bettman on Friday and Cheveldayoff walked away with his job in place.

The Chicago Blackhawks, a $1.085-billion franchise (per Forbes) owned by Rocky Wirtz, was fined $2 million by Bettman for its role in not reporting Beach’s alleged sexual abuse at the hand of video coach Brad Aldrich.

So, as you watch NHL commissioner and his righthand man, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, sit before a Zoom camera Monday and field an hour’s worth of questions on the allegation, the lack of immediate action and the fallout from this horror, it is worth remembering they too have bosses they’d prefer to keep happy.

In tone and content, Bettman hit the wrong notes in his first public appearance since the thorough infestation’s thoroughly enraging truths came to light; since Beach put a non-lawyerly face to these atrocities.

Daly revealed that although Blackhawks counsel gave the NHL a “heads up” about potential civil litigation back in December, the team told the league there was “no merit” to the threat. The NHL didn't take action at that point and didn’t hear more until the suit went public in May.

With respect to Quenneville’s appearance on the bench after his integral role in the rug-sweeping was uncovered, Bettman mentioned twice that the coach had 876 games on his resume. So even though the commissioner read Jenner & Block’s report last Monday, two days before Quenneville coached, Bettman felt it fine not to rush a meeting or have Quenneville step away until they met.

However, a player who, say, slew-foots an opponent cannot play while awaiting a disciplinary hearing from the same New York offices.

“I didn't want [Quenneville] to feel that he was being prejudged in any respect,” Bettman said. “So, really, while it may have optically not been the best look, I was more concerned with the substance than the look.”

How about the substance of a $2-million slap on the wrist to an empire?

The Arizona Coyotes lost two high draft picks in 2020 for violating the NHL's combine testing policy. This after they fired the GM responsible and cooperated with the league’s investigation.

Bettman fined the New Jersey Devils $3 million (later reduced to $1.5 million), plus a first- and third-round pick, in 2010 because Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract structure broke the rules.

“Different context, different facts,” Bettman defended. “It was substantial by any measure.”

The league has come down harder on salary cap violations and secret prospect workouts than not report sexual assault allegations.

In one turn, Bettman urged anyone with knowledge of abuse -- player, coach, staff, whoever -- to call a league hotline and feel empowered to report wrongdoing. In another, Bettman discounted then–Blackhawks assistant GM Cheveldayoff’s moral duty to speak up because he was so low on the hierarchy.

“The only person who placed Kevin in the room for the May 23 meeting was Kevin. Everybody else either forgot or didn't acknowledge that he was there,” Bettman defended.

“Kevin’s principal duties at the time were the salary cap and scouting. He was not having that level of interaction. And again, remember, his boss and his boss’s boss, he believed, were investigating and taking care of it. He had no basis to know what the conclusion was, and he was advised I think three weeks later that Aldrich was leaving the organization. He didn’t know on what basis or anything else. It wasn’t within the scope of his authority.”

The inconsistencies and platitudes got worse.

Bettman said the game is “probably right now in a better place than we’ve ever been,” which is a ridiculous misread of the room.

Daly said that Bill Peters’ investigation on the former NHL coach’s racism was wrapped up.

"We’ve been in touch with Akim Aliu's representatives about next steps, if there are any," Daly said.

To which Ben Meiselas, Aliu’s representative, fired off these tweets:

Bettman has not spoken with Stan Bowman, John McDonagh, nor Al MacIsaac since the report went public and damned them.

Bettman has offered counselling to Beach and his family.

TSN’s Rick Westhead asked if the league would extend the same courtesy to John Doe 2, the high school player assaulted by Aldrich in 2013, three years after he slipped out of Bettman’s league unscathed.

“I would have to know more about that circumstance,” Bettman responded. That “circumstance” resulted in a conviction in 2014. The research is there if he wants it.

“I am more focused, because of the circumstances in front of us, on what happened in the NHL environment. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. I certainly would need to know more information. Having said that, making our resources available is something that I would probably, not even knowing all the facts, want to do. But I think I would need to know more before I can make the type of blanket commitment you're asking me for.”

Manage the situation. Cloud it with lawyer-speak. Move forward.

In fact, when asked directly if there was anything he wishes the league had done differently or faster when first learning of Beach’s accusations, Bettman said "I'm not sure that there's anything we could have done differently or faster based on the knowledge that we have. In retrospect based on the knowledge that everybody has, I wish we knew about this in 2011, but we didn't."

The commissioner, who works for the owners, also said this about the Blackhawks:

“I think it’s clear that senior management made the decision to not deal with this and not talk about it and not tell ownership about it,” Bettman said. “The view of this that we expressed to the clubs on an ongoing basis is that the people that work for you do their jobs.

“You’re responsible for what goes on. You need to know about what goes on in your organization and take appropriate action when inappropriate things are taking place.”

These days, the ironies are much richer than the punishments.

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