Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to fight to keep his job. And the Winnipeg Jets appear to have the back of their embattled general manager, who is set to meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday to discuss his role in a sexual-assault scandal that has sent several of his former colleagues to the unemployment line.
Mark Chipman, the club's chairman and co-owner, will join Cheveldayoff on a flight to the league's head office in New York. Following that, the pair are expected to stand together and face the media, fielding questions about what Cheveldayoff knew and when, why he failed to take any direct action more than a decade ago, and why Chipman is comfortable to let him keep running the on-ice show.
Short of new evidence surfacing, or a development such as Bettman lowering the boom, this is how the situation is expected to play out over the coming days. It's all based around two key points: Cheveldayoff believes he did nothing wrong, following a chain-of-command that was in place in 2010 within the Chicago Blackhawks organization, where he was serving as assistant GM. And True North believes Cheveldayoff has been truthful and transparent, both with them and an independent investigation into the matter.
It's not going to be an easy or popular position to take, especially in a small, hockey-mad market like Winnipeg. Just look at the last handful of social media posts from the team itself, which contain a string of messages from angry followers demanding action. A highlight-reel recap of Tuesday's dramatic 4-3 win over Anaheim, posted Wednesday morning, includes the following: "Don't care. Fire Cheveldayoff" and "Just wondering what your stance is on your GM covering up sexual abuse?"
"It's great that the team is doing well — and we're all pulling for Winnipeg's success," another began. "However, I feel that it is neither appropriate, moral, nor ethical to continue to employ Kevin Cheveldayoff in your organization. The team and the players and the community should come first."
No, this isn't going away anytime soon, but it appears neither is Cheveldayoff. He remains with the Jets in California on this three-game road trip, which continues Thursday night in Los Angeles and concludes Saturday in San Jose. And there are no plans in the works at this time to replace him, with an internal belief that he will be allowed to remain at the helm. The organization has not commented at this point, beyond a written statement issued Tuesday evening on behalf of Cheveldayoff in which he welcomed the opportunity to sit down with Bettman.
I'm reserving final judgment until I have a chance to personally speak to Cheveldayoff, but there are plenty of folks who are jumping up to defend Cheveldayoff, suggesting he was in a no-win situation who would have had limited power. To that extent, the following is the Cole's Notes version of his defence, as I've been able to piece it together from sources around the league.
Cheveldayoff claims the first he heard of allegations against Chicago video coach Brad Aldrich was during a May 23, 2010 meeting. He actually had this timeline off a bit in his recollection to investigators, as outlined in their 107-page report issued Tuesday. He thought it happened during the Stanley Cup Final (in early June), whereas it actually occurred prior to the championship series.
Cheveldayoff would have been the most junior member of management in the room. 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 were also present. Cheveldayoff believes a decision was reached by his superiors to have the hockey operations folks continue to focus on the on-ice product, while they would handle the Aldrich allegations.
As the report stated this week, details provided to those in the meeting were of sexually inappropriate behaviour such as unwanted advances from Aldrich towards a pair of players, but not of what would meet the criminal definition of sexual assault. The player identified as John Doe (who came forward on Wednesday as Kyle Beach) concedes he didn't share the full nature of what happened to him at the time, instead doing so at a much later date.
In any event, Cheveldayoff is apparently taking the view he believed the matter would be handled by those higher up the organizational food chain. And, three weeks later, after the Blackhawks won the Cup, Aldrich resigned from the organization. Case closed, right?
As it turns out, not even close, but Cheveldayoff has told investigators, along with the Jets, that he had no knowledge of anything that transpired from that point on. That would include the fact Aldrich went on to land other hockey-related jobs, including at a high school where he molested a teenage player and was ultimately charged, convicted and jailed.
In announcing his resignation on Tuesday, Bowman seemed to point the finger of blame directly at McDonough, who was fired in 2020. He said McDonough "committed to handling the matter" — which obviously didn't occur. In fining the Blackhawks US$2 million this week — in addition to Bowman and MacIsaac's departures — the NHL cited the organization’s "inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response in the handling of matters." Blunk and Gary left the club earlier this year, leaving only Cheveldayoff and Quenneville as members of that meeting currently employed in the NHL.
At least for now. Quenneville will meet Thursday with Bettman, and he must answer for why he lied to the media earlier this year in claiming the first he heard of the Aldrich allegations were this past summer in news reports. Of course, we now know he was present in that May 2010 meeting. Furthermore, he wrote a glowing job evaluation of Aldrich on June 29, 2010, following the forced resignation, which ultimately opened doors for the predator.
Quenneville doesn't appear to have quite the same ground as Cheveldayoff to stand on. His days as head coach of the Florida Panthers should be numbered. As for Cheveldayoff, it appears True North is supporting the only GM they've ever had on the grounds his explanation is both reasonable and plausible.
Some will say this is an example of extreme loyalty to a fault, one that could ultimately backfire. And whether that will ultimately resonate with Bettman, or the public at large, remains to be seen. The optics of this are terrible, especially with the benefit of hindsight, and you wonder if the stench will ultimately prove to be overwhelming.
We won't have to wait much longer to find out.
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.