Gary Bettman defends NHL's disciplinary decisions in Chicago Blackhawks investigation

Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, defended the league in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault investigation into allegations made by Kyle Beach. He also defended the league’s decision on additional discipline for those involved.
Bettman stated Monday that "we could not be more sorry" for Kyle's trauma. "And our goal to keep moving forward is to do all that is necessary."

Jenner & Block released last week a report detailing how the Blackhawks handled sexual assault allegations against Brad Aldrich, their former video coach. Beach, a former Blackhawks player, came forward Wednesday as "John Doe", claiming that Aldrich had sexually assaulted and harassed his during the 2010 Stanley Cup run.

The investigation led to the resignations of Stan Bowman, Chicago's general manager, and Al MacIsaac (senior VP of hockey operations), as well as Joel Quenneville (who was at that time behind the Blackhawks bench). They all participated in meetings to discuss how to handle the allegations, but failed to take any action against Aldrich within the appropriate timeframe.

Bettman apologized Monday to Beach for "what he had been through" and provided resources to help him and his family. The NHL will help to create a network for player-assistance groups "to be available the hockey community so that wherever your place in the hockey ecosystem is -- minor league, professional, major junior, college and amateur, youth, or minor hockey -- we believe it's important that every person has an outlet for assistance."

The NHL's role in the investigation has been criticised.

Bettman stated that the NHL hadn't seen the report in any format before Oct. 25 and that what the league knew was from Beach's allegations in the lawsuit. He stated that the NHL insisted on Blackhawks conducting an independent investigation, and that it was willing to pursue other avenues of action if they were unhappy with the way the investigation was conducted.

Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner, stated that the Blackhawks gave the league "heads up" in December regarding Beach's claims from Chicago team general counsel concerning potential civil litigation. Daly explained that the Blackhawks claimed "there was no merit" in Beach's claim, and the league did not take action within the five months that passed between Beach's lawsuit being filed and the heads-up.

The league was not aware of all the allegations until May, when the civil suit was filed.

After the report was published, the league was also criticized. The NHL fined $2 million to the Blackhawks for violating draft-combine or salary-cap rules. This was a lesser punishment than other NHL teams that have been subject to similar violations, which led to financial penalties and loss of draft picks.

Bettman said that the fine was justified, adding that "people have debated its amount, but it was substantial in any measure."

Bettman said, "It sends an message to all clubs regarding how I view their organization's responsibilities," and also rejected comparisons to past fines.

"The facts and contexts of the other teams were different. This was done to show that the Blackhawks' handling of the matter was unacceptable, even though the ownership wasn't aware. This was also an indication to the rest of league that your organization must be able to handle these matters properly.

The league was also criticised for failing to take the necessary steps to expel Quenneville from the coaching of a Panthers match against the Boston Bruins, on the day before his meeting with Bettman in New York City.

Bettman, however, defended the decision to not indefinitely suspend Quenneville.

Bettman stated that while opinions may differ, he had coached 867 games in 2010 and that he was not prejudging anyone. While people may disagree about this, I was focused on the long-term and not on one game.

Beach spoke on TSN in an emotional interview that Bettman described as "horrified" by Beach's comments.

Bettman also supported his decision to not punish Winnipeg Jets general manger Kevin Cheveldayoff. Cheveldayoff was also an assistant GM for Blackhawks in 2010. He also participated in a meeting regarding Aldrich.

"I don't believe he was responsible for the club not acting appropriately. It seems there is some confusion. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear, but it seems like there was some confusion about whether, despite his lack in power, position, or seniority, Bettman should have felt free. He believed that his bosses would investigate the matter, which he did when he parted company with Aldrich.

Bettman also supported Blackhawks ownership's claim that it wasn’t looped on these allegations.

He stated that he believes it was clear that the senior management decided not to deal with it, not talk about it, and not tell owners about it. "I believe this situation and the view that we shared with the clubs on a regular basis is that the people who work for you do what they are supposed to. You are responsible for what happens. You must be aware of what is happening in your company and take corrective action if it happens.

"This should be a wake-up call to all clubs. You must make sure that you fully understand the situation in your club, or you will be held accountable."

The investigation has not resolved several issues. On Monday, the NHLPA executive board will meet with Don Fehr to discuss Beach's allegations.

ESPN was told by a former NHL player that he believed the boys were pissed off. Fehr is mad about the Beach thing.

Reporters will meet Tuesday with Mark Chipman, Jets owner and Cheveldayoff. The ongoing civil lawsuit between Beach and Blackhawks is still ongoing, and the team continues to fight it in court.

Bettman was asked if he had any advice for Blackhawks fans that might be having trouble supporting the team in the future.

He said, "I believe people will, like us feel dispirited. They'll be disappointed. They'll be horrified at what happened." "But we want to make it clear that although we tried to be transparent, disciplinary action was taken to correct the wrongdoings. We have procedures, training, and counseling that we used to prevent this kind of activity from being encouraged, in fact prohibited, in hockey's culture.

"We will have to be evaluated as we move forward. If you consider all of these factors, I believe it's a terrible picture. We have to do the right things and move forward. How do we address the past or move forward?