Kevin Cheveldayoff has some explaining to do. And if the Winnipeg Jets general manager wants to keep his job — a dicey proposition at this point — he needs to plead his case and fully explain his role in a sexual-assault scandal stemming from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Opinion

Kevin Cheveldayoff has some explaining to do. And if the Winnipeg Jets general manager wants to keep his job — a dicey proposition at this point — he needs to plead his case and fully explain his role in a sexual-assault scandal stemming from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Cheveldayoff will get the opportunity to do that privately with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has reserved judgment on his fate until such a meeting can occur. It would appear the same is true of his employer, True North, which took no action on Tuesday despite a damning independent report that shook the hockey world to its core.

Here in the court of public opinion, swift justice is being called for in some quarters. And Cheveldayoff's fate may already be sealed regardless of which direction this goes.

Cheveldayoff's fate may already be sealed regardless of which direction this goes. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Cheveldayoff's fate may already be sealed regardless of which direction this goes. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

As we've now learned, Cheveldayoff was part of a Blackhawks braintrust that mishandled disturbing allegations made by two players against video coach Brad Aldrich during their Stanley Cup playoff run in 2010. The claims were discussed in a May 23 meeting which involved Cheveldayoff (assistant GM at the time), president John McDonough, executive vice-president Jay Blunk, GM Stan Bowman, director of hockey administration Al MacIsaac, skills coach James Gary and head coach Joel Quenneville.

Then-skills coach Paul Vincent had first brought the matter to their attention, but police were never contacted. Aldrich was allowed to remain with the team for about three more weeks, got to be involved with championship celebrations and ultimately resigned rather than face an internal investigation. The Blackhawks stayed quiet about what had transpired, even after Aldrich landed other hockey-related jobs, including at a high school where he molested a player and was ultimately charged, convicted and jailed.

Whether it was a deliberate cover-up or just organizational incompetence, the end result was a reprehensible failure of leadership that ultimately allowed a predator to find another victim. It's yet another example of toxic hockey culture, one which only came to light thanks to a civil lawsuit and some dogged reporting by a handful of journalists who should be applauded.

A law firm led by a former U.S. attorney was brought in to investigate earlier this year, and the findings laid bare on Tuesday led to the immediate dismissal of Bowman and MacIsaac, who were the last remaining executives involved with the Aldrich case still employed by the team. (McDonough was fired last year, while Blunk and Gary departed earlier this year.) The NHL also hit Chicago with a US$2 million fine, half of which will be funnelled towards victims of sexual abuse, for what it called "organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response in the handling of matters."

Whether it was a deliberate cover–up or just organizational incompetence, the end result was a reprehensible failure of leadership that ultimately allowed a predator to find another victim.

The burning questions in hockey circles now is whether Cheveldayoff (and Quenneville, currently the bench boss of the 6-0-0 Florida Panthers) should join them on the unemployment line. Like judges often do in important cases, I'm going to need a bit more time to ponder this before rendering a verdict.

For two decades, I sat inside courtrooms witnessing some of the worst humanity had to offer while covering crime and justice for this newspaper. As the years went by, and the horror stories stacked up, I found myself viewing cases through an increasingly different lens, one that wasn't always black and white. There were often plenty of shades of grey, two (or often more) sides to every story, and it wasn't always so cut and dried.

That might be the best way to describe Cheveldayoff's role in this mess. There's no longer any doubt he had direct knowledge that something bad had occurred given his presence in that all-important meeting. But why he stayed quiet isn't clear. Did he assume those further up the organizational food chain such as McDonough, Blunk, Bowman and MacIsaac were going to handle it? If so, what steps, if any, did he take to follow up to ensure that had taken place? And if he did nothing — the legal term wilful blindness comes to mind — what does he have to say for himself?

This past summer, as news of the Blackhawks scandal broke, Cheveldayoff released a statement through the Jets in which he promised to co-operate with the investigation.

"I had no knowledge of any allegations involving Mr. Aldrich until asked if I was aware of anything just prior to the conclusion of his employment with the Chicago Blackhawks," Cheveldayoff began. "After confirming that I had no prior knowledge of anything, I had no further involvement."

Cheveldayoff was part of a Blackhawks braintrust that mishandled disturbing allegations made by two players against video coach Brad Aldrich during their Stanley Cup playoff run in 2010. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files) 

210113 - Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

Cheveldayoff was part of a Blackhawks braintrust that mishandled disturbing allegations made by two players against video coach Brad Aldrich during their Stanley Cup playoff run in 2010. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files) 210113 - Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

There are some now pointing to this as a smoking gun. But his statement would appear to have been vague by design, and I suppose the "just prior to the conclusion of his employment" timeline could be stretched to include the May 23 gathering of team executives. Quenneville, on the other hand, should be afforded no such leeway in that department. In a statement released in July, he claimed to have only heard about the Aldrich matter for the first time this summer through the media. That's a flat-out lie.

Given that Winnipeg and Florida employ the only two active participants from that meeting, they won't be able to lie low for much longer, even if the NHL's response bought them a bit more time.

The Panthers said Tuesday they would have no further comment pending Quenneville's upcoming chat with Bettman. The Jets released a similar statement from Cheveldayoff in the early evening, saying, "I have shared everything I know about this matter as part of my participation in Jenner & Block’s investigation. That is reflected in today’s investigation report. Further, I look forward to my discussion with Commissioner Bettman at the soonest possible date to continue to co-operate fully with the National Hockey League. I will reserve any further comment until after that conversation has been conducted."

I'm willing to hear Cheveldayoff out, even though I know not everyone feels the same way. But just as his silence in 2010 should have been unacceptable, the same goes for now. If he's unwilling, or unable, to speak up and offer a plausible explanation, then it's time to show him the door.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.