NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended the league's role in the Chicago Blackhawks' sexual assault investigation regarding allegations made by former player Kyle Beach, including the league's decisions on additional discipline for those involved.
"We could not be more sorry for the trauma that Kyle has had to endure," Bettman said Monday. "And our goal is to do what is necessary to continue to move forward."
Last week, an investigation by the law firm Jenner & Block was released and detailed how the Blackhawks mishandled sexual assault allegations against former video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. Beach came forward Wednesday as "John Doe," the former Blackhawks player who filed a lawsuit against the team and alleged that Aldrich sexually assaulted and harassed him during the team's 2010 Stanley Cup run.
The investigation resulted in resignations by Chicago general manager Stan Bowman and senior VP of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, as well as Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who was behind the Blackhawks' bench at that time. All three took part in meetings on how to handle the allegations in 2010 and failed to take action against Aldrich in an appropriate time frame.
Bettman said Monday he apologized to Beach in a call on Saturday for "what he has been through" and offered resources for counseling to him and his family. He said the NHL plans to help create a network of player-assistance organizations "to be available to the hockey community so that wherever you may be in the hockey ecosystem -- minor league, pro, major junior, college, amateur, youth, minor hockey, male or female -- we think it's important that everyone has an outlet for help."
The NHL has been criticized for its role in the investigation.
Bettman said the NHL had not seen the report in any form before Oct. 25, and what the league knew about the scandal was from the allegations made by Beach in the lawsuit. He said the NHL was insistent that the Blackhawks facilitated an independent investigation and reserved the right to "override or pursue any other course of action" if the league was dissatisfied with the how the investigation was conducted.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the Blackhawks gave the league a "heads-up" in December about Beach's allegations from Chicago team general counsel about potential civil litigation. As for why the league didn't take action in the five months between the heads-up and Beach's lawsuit being filed, Daly said it was because the Blackhawks said "there was no merit" to the claim.
It wasn't until the civil suit was filed in May that the league became aware of the full allegations.
The league also was criticized for its actions after the report was released. The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million -- a less severe punishment than some NHL teams have received for violating salary-cap or draft-combine rules, which resulted in losses of draft picks and financial penalties.
Bettman defended the fine, saying "people have debated the amount of the fine, but it was substantial by any measure.
"It sends a message to all clubs about how I view their organization responsibilities," said Bettman, who also disagreed with comparisons to previous fines.
"The others had different context and different facts. This was to make clear that the way the Blackhawks organization handled the matter was inappropriate, even though ownership was not aware. It was also a message to the rest of the league that you have to make sure your organization is functioning properly on these matters."
The league also took heat for not stepping to remove Quenneville from coaching a Panthers game against the Boston Bruins on the eve of his meeting with Bettman in New York City the next day.
But Bettman defended the decision not to indefinitely suspend Quenneville.
"I suppose people can differ on that point, but 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 prejudged him," Bettman said. "Again, people can disagree on this, but I was focused on the long term, not that one game."
Beach gave an emotional interview on TSN that Bettman said left him "horrified" and "distressed."
Bettman also defended his decision not to punish Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who was an assistant GM for the Blackhawks in 2010 and also took part in a meeting about Aldrich.
"I do not believe he bore any responsibility for the club's failure to act appropriately. There seems to be some confusion, and if I was not previously clear on that, I apologize, but there seems to be some confusion on the point of whether despite his lack of power, position or seniority, he should have felt free to speak up," Bettman said. "But because of his limited authority and circumstance, he left the meeting believing that this matter was going to be investigated by his bosses, and when Aldrich parted ways with the team, he thought that was what had happened."
Bettman also defended Blackhawks ownership's assertion that it wasn't looped on the allegations.
"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," he said. "I think this situation, and 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.
"If nothing else, this has to serve as a wake-up call for all clubs: You need to make sure you understand what's going on in your organization, because you're going to be held responsible."
Several issues remain unresolved from the investigation. The NHL Players' Association executive board is due to meet with executive director Don Fehr on Monday afternoon to discuss the NHLPA's inaction when Beach's allegations were presented to them.
One NHL veteran player told ESPN ahead of the meeting: "I think the boys are pissed. Real anger with Fehr over the Beach thing."
Cheveldayoff and Jets owner Mark Chipman are scheduled to meet with reporters Tuesday. There also is the ongoing civil suit between Beach and the Blackhawks, which the team continues to fight in court.
Bettman was asked whether he had any message for Blackhawks fans who might have trouble supporting the team going forward.
"I think people are going to, like us, feel dispirited, disappointed, horrified as to what happened," he said. "But understand we've tried to be as transparent as possible, that action has been taken -- disciplinary -- to address the things that were done wrong. That we have had, even prior to this, procedures and training and counseling in effect to ensure that the culture of hockey doesn't encourage, and in fact prohibits, this type of activity.
"We're going to have to be judged as we move forward. I think if you take into account all the factors here, well, it's certainly a horrible picture, we have to move forward the best we can doing the things that are right. In terms of addressing the things that have happened, or how we move forward."