Photo credit:Hockey Canada on Twitter
Seeing the Chicago Blackhawks win the Connor Bedard sweepstakes sucks
9 months ago
When Bill Daly flipped the 1st overall pick card to reveal the Chicago Blackhawks logo, it confirmed the hockey world’s worst fears.
From an on-ice perspective, it isn’t surprising that the Blackhawks won. Chicago finished 31st in the league after officially dismantling the core of their three-time Stanley Cup roster, trading away Patrick Kane and announcing they wouldn’t be re-signing Jonathan Toews.
But none of that is why we’re here. Debates about tanking, rebuilds and lottery balls have never felt less significant when you wonder how the winning team was able to win at all.
The fact is, the Blackhawks shouldn’t have been allowed to win first overall.
In the middle of their 2010 run to the Stanley Cup, Chicago’s top brass was informed that video coach Brad Aldrich had sexually assaulted one of the team’s taxi squad players. After convening at their San Jose hotel, the Blackhawks came to a crossroads; either protect their own players – and potentially others – by reporting the incident to Chicago police or avoid the prospect of a potential distraction by sweeping the incident under the rug, and quietly letting Aldrich go after the playoffs.
The Blackhawks chose the second option. Aldrich celebrated their eventual Stanley Cup with players on the ice, had his name engraved on it, and took part in the parade, during which he allegedly sexually harassed a team intern. Heck, he was even given a championship ring later on!
For Blackhawks brass, the Aldrich situation ended in 2010. For Kyle Beach and the victims that came after him, it was a haunting, horrific betrayal of trust that festered until it couldn’t be kept secret.
In December 2013, Aldrich plead guilty to criminal sexual conduct after sexually assaulting a teenager on the Houghton High School team he coached as a volunteer. The Blackhawks’ failure to disclose the predatory behaviour that led to Aldrich’s dismissal became front and centre, with multiple lawsuits filed against the team by a number of Aldrich’s victims who suffered a similar fate.
The entire franchise’s culture was placed under the microscope in 2021, and it was clear how poisoned the well had become during their rise to three-time Stanley Cup champions. As a result of an independent investigation, key figures at the centre of the coverup resigned from NHL positions, including Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and former head coach Joel Quenneville.
Bowman’s resignation is of particular interest today. In the immediate aftermath, Kyle Davidson was named as Bowman’s replacement and began his tenure engaging in a complete slate cleaning of the on-ice roster, a rapid-fire process that positioned the team to win the lottery on Monday.
But what punishment did the Blackhawks really face in the wake of the Beach coverup investigation?
In other situations of franchise misconduct, the NHL routinely elected to strip franchises of first-round draft picks to send a message. But when given the chance to make an example out of a high-profile franchise and take a strong position against covering up sexual assault, the league waffled.
Which brings us to Monday. It goes without saying that Chicago absolutely shouldn’t have their 2023 first-round pick to use, much less win a draft lottery with.
The Arizona Coyotes lost a first-round pick for holding workouts with prospects ahead of the draft. Chicago aided a predator and only received a $2 million fine.
Not only was that number less than 21 percent of Seth Jones’ annual cap hit, but the fine was effectively paid back in full less than two hours after winning the draft lottery.
Instead of punishing the team properly for letting such a culture propagate, the NHL rewarded the Blackhawks with the ability to draft a franchise-altering talent. But perhaps the worst part of all of this is just how little remorse the club has shown for their actions.
At the 2021 Draft, right in the heat of the Aldrich scandal, Stan Bowman made the team’s first pick surrounded by high-ranking female staff members in an effort to shield the team from criticism. While publicly expressing their ‘deepest apologies’ to Beach, the Blackhawks filed motions in court to dismiss his lawsuit against them.
And at a town hall meeting near the end of 2021-22 season, when pressed about the organization’s long-term plans to ensure the same situation doesn’t happen again, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz gave the worst response possible.
“I think the report speaks for itself, the people who that were involved are no longer here,” said Wirtz. “We’re not looking back at 2010, we’re looking forward and we’re not going to talk about 2010, we’re not going to talk about what happened… We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach, we’re not going to talk about anything that happened, what more do I have to say?”
Failed to load video.
Those are not the words of an owner who’d learned a crucial lesson about human decency or ethics. The front-facing staff members from the scandal might be gone, but the culture is still clearly rotten.
By allowing the Blackhawks the opportunity to select Connor Bedard, the NHL decided that there are greater consequences for exploiting loopholes in the CBA than there are for team decisions that ruin people’s lives irreparably in the world beyond the rink.
If you’re disgusted by how this played out, remember that anger when these situations arise again. And unfortunately, they very likely will. It might be too late to change Monday’s results, but we can certainly continue to shame the league for its laughably inadequate punishment of the Blackhawks and hopefully prevent it from happening again.
But for the time being, we can all agree. This sucks.
Recent articles from Lachlan Irvine