Frankly, I'm not surprised Chicago shielded Jonathan Toews from doing media on Friday here in his hometown. After all, "Captain Serious" has been more like "Captain Silent" for quite some time now.
It's not a good look, and it's one which should be bringing a lot more scrutiny for the current leader of the Blackhawks, who happened to also wear the "C" on his sweater during the 2009-10 Stanley Cup championship season which has now been forever tainted by a sexual-assault scandal.
As former player Kyle Beach publicly described in painstaking detail last week — and several former teammates have confirmed — what happened to him at the hands of former video coach Brad Aldrich was well known within the locker room. To the point that, at training camp the following season, he was mocked by some players who asked him where his "boyfriend Brad" was and made other disgusting, homophobic remarks.
When we talk about toxic hockey culture, it's important to remember the major role players have in that. And this sorry affair is Exhibit A — both in how it was handled at the time, and in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. Several current and former Blackhawks, such as Duncan Keith, refused to participate in an independent investigation. Others, such as Toews, claim to have heard and seen nothing, even when conflicting evidence along with a dose of common sense leaves you wondering how that's possible.
"Jonathan Toews is a captain. He’s a winner. He’s all those things… but he may be a little human," current Arizona Coyotes forward Antoine Roussel told a Montreal radio station earlier this week. "It was really disappointing to see how he still protected these people. They could be your friends. Maybe. But they reacted badly, and sometimes when friends react badly, they just have to face the music."
If an active player like Roussel is willing to put such a damning indictment on the public record, it's clear there's more than just smoke here. There's a raging inferno.
Toews has said very little on the matter, but he's actually dug himself a big hole when he has opened his mouth. Last week, following the release of the damning report into how the organization catastrophically failed in its duty to protect Beach, another unnamed Blackhawks player and a teenager in Michigan who would later be molested by Aldrich, Toews apparently saw fit to sing the praises of two of the guys who were quickly shown the door.
The Winnipegger, who has both a community club and a lake named after him in this province, went on at length about how general manager Stan Bowman and executive Al MacIsaac were great guys, essentially painting them as victims. He categorized any wrongdoing on their part as a simple mistake, ranted about the price they were paying and had nothing to say about the young men whose lives were ruined as a result of their inaction.
Talk about a tone-deaf response and failing to read the room. Earlier this week, no doubt recognizing just how cold and callous he'd come across, Toews "clarified" his comments with Chicago writers.
"I can't undo what happened, I'd just like to know more and more about what Kyle feels and what he wants and what he envisions for the future," Toews said. "Maybe someone like me in my position can make a difference."
It seems a little late for that now. And it's hard to take that at face value when, a couple days later, Toews is back here in Winnipeg to play a game for the first time since Feb. 16, 2020 but is allowed to duck and hide. A lot has transpired in those 628 days, including Toews getting COVID-19, developing what may be long-haul symptoms, missing the entire 2021 season, and now being the face of a franchise that is rightfully under fire.
So, yeah, we might have had a thing or two to ask him about. Except we never had the chance. The Blackhawks didn't even hold an in-person media availability following Friday's morning skate at Canada Life Centre, instead moving it to Zoom at the exact same time the Jets were holding their media availability at the downtown rink, which is unheard of. Oh, and they trotted out defenceman Erik Gustafsson and forward Mike Hardman to answer a few hockey-related questions from their own hometown scribes.
As Beach has detailed, his efforts to bring Aldrich to justice for abusing him that spring were stonewalled by senior management with Chicago. Six of the seven men who met in May 2010 to discuss the matter, then failed to do anything about it, are now gone from the NHL. The only one left standing is Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who was exonerated by the league on the grounds he was not fully aware of the allegations, played no role in covering them up and believed his bosses were handling things.
Plenty of pitchforks have been out for Cheveldayoff, who has apologized to Beach and vowed to use his platform to bring about change. That got the seal of approval earlier this week from former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, who was a victim of abuse at the hands of former junior coach Graham James. Kennedy told CBC on Thursday, prior to being inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, how he's glad the league and True North ultimately chose to stick with Cheveldayoff.
"I think that Kevin Cheveldayoff will bring more good to these issues and change… being part of the organization than he would by not being part of the organization," said Kennedy.
There's plenty of blame to go around, and I would never suggest Cheveldayoff doesn't deserve to be put under a microscope for his role. He has been, and that should continue.
But I wonder why some of that same vitriol isn't being directed towards Toews and his teammates, who had plenty of power of their own to help a struggling young man like Beach but instead opted to pile on, look the other way and send his life into an even further downward spiral. Regardless of what they managed to accomplish on the ice, their legacy will be forever tainted.
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.