TORONTO – Mere hours after Robin Lehner challenged his peers to join him in speaking up for Kyle Beach, for systemic and cultural change in how the NHL and its Players’ Association deal with serious issues, several members of the Toronto Maple Leafs did so with conviction.
Both as a full team and in smaller informal groups, Beach’s long-deferred truth, the Chicago Blackhawks' lack of initial action, and the PA’s mishandling of one of its own has been a major source of conversation amongst Maple Leafs players over the past week.
A union call was held Monday, and another investigation into chief Donald Fehr’s role in the fallout is pending.
Starting with the most passionate among them, we’ll leave the floor to the Leafs players Wednesday, as they continue a critical discussion Beach boldly started.
WAYNE SIMMONDS: “First of all, I want to send my condolences to Kyle Beach. Everything that happened is heartbreaking. I found myself watching that interview, and I started to tear up a little bit. The thing that got me was when they asked him about the 16-year-old, and he apologized. To me, he has nothing to apologize for. He was the one who was wronged.
“This is something that's systemic. I find in the NHL when something happens bad, the guys are afraid to speak up because of repercussions. And that's something that's definitely got to change. It's unacceptable. I think within our dressing room — within a lot of other teams’ dressing rooms — now the culture is starting to change and starting to roll over, considering the new blood, fresh blood that's coming into the league.
“I'm in lockstep with what Robin Lehner said last night. More players got to speak up. More players got to do their part. We don't want this to continue to happen. As we go down the line here, we got to make it better for the guys that are coming in after us. It's not about us anymore. It's about what happens to the young kids that are coming into the league now.
“I feel everyone must be held accountable. Whether it's NHL, NHLPA — everyone has to be held accountable. There's no excuses. This can't just be another fleeting moment where it's here now and then gone tomorrow.”
MORGAN RIELLY: “It’s troubling. As a hockey community, there’s a lot to take in there [from Beach’s interview]. There’s a lot to be ashamed about. And I think we as a group would be remiss if we didn’t step back and analyze what we could’ve done differently in that situation. So, I think [we must] try to look ahead at what we can do to create the proper resources for players to go and speak up and try to prevent that from happening again.
“[We need] that ability to create a safe space and the resources available to players to go and feel supported by people who are going to believe what they say. Players and staff and all people have the ability to reach out and ask for help and feel comfortable with that.”
JASON SPEZZA: “It was extremely difficult to see a guy go through that much pain — and a lot of courage on his part to come forward. And hopefully we can have change.
“Everyone is stricken by what’s happened, and it’s forcing everyone to take a deep look into how things are run and what can be improved and how we cannot have problems like this moving forward. So, I think the PA will take a very serious approach to creating a better support system for players and working on it. But it’s a work in progress and an eye-opener for everyone.”
ALEXANDER KERFOOT: “We’re all thinking of Kyle. We’re all having discussions internally and we’re on calls like that, finding out where we went wrong, what we can do better, how we can improve the systems in place so that something like this doesn’t happen again — because obviously something like that has no place in hockey. We feel for Kyle. Unfortunately, we’re never going to be able to take back what happened, but we have to be able to learn from it and grow from it.
“Things like that are still going to happen, unfortunately, as horrible as it is, but there needs to be a better system in place to be able to deal with it and cope with things like that going forward. If there is someone else who has an incident or something else similar, we need to be more aware and more open and be able to lookout for each other as players, as organizations, and as a league in general. And be able to be there for people like that in a way that we weren’t for Kyle.”
SPEZZA: “It’s important that we make the right steps, not the quick steps. [Lehner’s voice] shows where the younger generation of guys is at, the maturity in them wanting to tackle some of these issues. I think it’s a great thing. And I think we’ve all learned a lot over the last decade about mental health, social awareness — a lot of stuff that wasn’t talked about when I was coming into the league. This is a great time for us as players to grow as a group, and Robin seems to want to be at the forefront of it.”
SIMMONDS: “Everyone within locker rooms right now are open to the conversation. It’s something incredibly saddening. And to see that happen… I was in the league back then [in 2010], when that happened. It just rips my heart out to see what Kyle Beach has gone through. And he's had to sit with that pain, that anguish for the last 11 years. Not being able to speak his mind, speak his truth. And I think that's a shame.”
KERFOOT: “He’s a player just like us, right? It obviously could’ve happened to anyone. The conversations are ongoing. We’re still going to have them. It’s not like we have any answers right now.”
SIMMONDS: “Our conversations centred around how unbelievable it was — and the fact that something that actually got brought up during the time could get passed over by so many people. I think that's the biggest crime, especially to Kyle Beach. That's something that should’ve been handled immediately. Something like that is so… how do I say this? I don't really have words. Like, what I'm going through, what I'm processing through my mind, it's unacceptable.
“I don't know if we can have an independent arbitrator or something outside of the league where players can speak up, so that it's just not in the hands of the teams or the NHL. So that there's an outside view, to where they're not thinking about who's getting punishment here or who's going to get taken out of a GM spot or coaching spot. Because when it comes to sexual assault and a lot of other matters in this league, people shouldn't be afraid to speak up. People shouldn't be afraid to tell the truth without fear of repercussions.”
RIELLY: “My level of faith [in the Players’ Association leadership]? It’s a good question. I don’t have a proper answer for that. I wasn’t on the call [Monday], but I got a rundown afterwards. We’re going to let this take its course for now, and we’re going to have to reassess at some point.”
SIMMONDS, on whether the handling of Beach has shaken his faith in the NHLPA: “Quite frankly, yeah, it has.”
Quotes have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.