As NHL commissioner Gary Bettman noted Friday, it would have been all-too-easy to toss Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into the lion's den and give the angry mob the pound of flesh they were demanding. To carpet bomb everyone connected to a clearly broken system that failed several young hockey players who were sexually abused by a predator in their midst.
Instead, Cheveldayoff's career lives to see another day, becoming the last man standing from the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks scandal that has rightfully cost six other colleagues their cushy, high-paid jobs. The league's position will not be popular in some courts of public opinion, where Cheveldayoff has already been tried and convicted. By standing by their man here in Winnipeg, True North may also face backlash.
A popular quote, widely attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke, comes to mind in this sorry situation: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." However, as Bettman wrote in his decision — which are supported by the findings in a damning 107-page independent report released earlier this week — there was enough evidence to spare Cheveldayoff the rod.
That his knowledge was limited as the low-man on the organizational totem pole whose presence in a pivotal May 23, 2010 meeting regarding allegations against video coach Brad Aldrich wasn't even recalled by the majority of other participants. That he was assured the matter was in good hands higher up the proverbial food chain. That his involvement as essentially an "observer" ended that day. That he was not privy to anything that transpired further regarding how Aldrich was handled by the club, nor what he went on to do. And that he has been "extremely forthcoming and credible" about his role.
As I've stated from the outset, I'm reserving my personal judgment until I have a chance to hear directly from the Cheveldayoff himself, which is going to happen next week. Co-owner and chairman Mark Chipman will be standing at his side to face the media music as well. Despite Friday's developments — which were accompanied by a brief written statement from Cheveldayoff that said very little — a number of key questions still need to be answered, including:
*Based on what Cheveldayoff heard in the meeting, what exactly did he believe Aldrich had done to the two Chicago players? We know the player identified as John Doe, now revealed to be 2008 first-rounder Kyle Beach, has admitted he didn't initially give full details of Aldrich's attack on him. Did Cheveldayoff know this rose to the level of sexual assault? Did he take any steps beyond that meeting to find out more information? Did he ever consider contacting the police?
*Forget about legal or organizational obligations. What about ethical and moral ones? Why didn't Cheveldayoff take it upon himself to ensure justice was done on behalf of his two players, either at the time or in the days, weeks, months and even years that followed? Did he fear repercussions from senior management if he spoke up?
*Cheveldayoff's statement this past summer, while not a lie, seemed deliberately vague when he stated he first heard about Aldrich's actions shortly before his departure from the organization (which came in mid-June 2010). Why wasn't he more clear about when (May 23) and how (the meeting) he learned about it?
*Didn't he think something was amiss when Aldrich was allowed to still be around the organization after the initial disclosure was made and the matter, as he supposedly understood it, was being "handled"? For three more weeks right through their Stanley Cup victory to participating in celebratory events, including the parade, getting his day with the trophy, and even returning in the fall for on-ice celebrations. Shouldn't that all have raised some red flags? At that point, did he inquire about what steps had been taken against Aldrich? And, if not, why not?
*What did Cheveldayoff hear from players about what had happened to Beach and the other unnamed victim on his team? We now know, from Beach and numerous others, that it was well-known within the locker room what had transpired, and Beach was actually mocked by teammates for it. As AGM, surely that information should have been known by him?
*What steps, both professionally and personally, has Cheveldayoff taken to address shortcomings in how this matter was handled. Has he reached out to Beach or the other victims personally? Has he spoken to his own current Jets players now about concerns they may have?
*Cheveldayoff was also Blackhawks AGM when then-AHL coach Bill Peters uttered racial slurs at minor-league player Akim Aliu, in 2009-10, an incident that only became public a decade later. What does it say about him, and the organization, to have not one, but two horrific cases kept quiet? Are there others still waiting to be unearthed?
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*Given everything we now know, does Cheveldayoff regret not doing more to help Beach, and the others?
*For Chipman, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of honesty, trust and values in his organization, and by extension within the community at large. Given the stench surrounding this case, how does he now reconcile that? What steps will he take to address those who say supporting Cheveldayoff undoes all of that? At the very least, surely he must admit the optics aren't good. Especially given that his assistant GM, Craig Heisinger, once had close ties working with Graham James and has declined to speak about his involvement in that saga.
*For Chipman, who has been mostly silent since the pandemic began and out of the public domain. Why is that? Does he believe this has led to a disconnect with the fan-base, and might this development exacerbate that?
That doesn't cover everything, and I suspect many of you may have additional questions. For some, the answers likely won't matter. They want an eye-for-an-eye, even if that kind of approach really does make the world go blind. But if Cheveldayoff is going to continue running Winnipeg's on-ice product — and the door is now wide-open for that to occur — plenty of work remains to prove why that is a fair and just outcome to this dark chapter in hockey history.
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.
His reputation has suffered a hit but Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will keep his job after being cleared Friday morning of wrongdoing for his role in the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual-assault scandal.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement exonerating Cheveldayoff, Chicago's former assistant GM, after the two met in New York.