The bar was on the floor. But the Winnipeg Jets stepped over it nonetheless.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the Jenner & Block report was released last week outlining the Chicago Blackhawks’ mishandling of sexual assault allegations against Brad Aldrich, both Jets executive chairman & governor Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff showed a level of contrition and sincerity for the horrors Kyle Beach endured that was noticeably absent from Gary Bettman’s response the day prior.
It was far from perfect, though.
Chipman began his opening statement with a heartfelt apology to Beach for being failed by a system that was meant to protect him, broke down in tears whilst relaying his account of witnessing people close to him be impacted by sexual abuse, and vowed to use his influence within the NHL to improve its culture and ensure this will never happen again.
He also brought up Rick Rypien’s tragic death in response to an unrelated question for no discernable reason, went on a minutes-long tangent about how competitive and driven to win he is, and answered multiple questions near the end of the availability with “sorry if that didn’t answer your question”.
Sure, the Jets did raise the bar. It’s just that expectations were about as low as humanly possible, to begin with.
Cheveldayoff offered sincere words of sympathy to Beach for putting his trust in the system that ultimately failed him so many years ago. Those words appeared to carry real emotion. They did, however, ring a little more hollow with each insistence from Cheveldayoff that he knew nothing.
The Jets GM reiterated time and time again that his role as assistant GM back in 2010 withheld him from overseeing the Blackhawks’ internal investigation into Brad Aldrich’s misconduct. Cheveldayoff’s primary duty, according to him, was the salary cap, a role that rarely if ever led him to cross paths with Aldrich and kept him largely secluded from everyday mingling amongst the team.
“It’s not like I was down in the dressing room”, Cheveldayoff said while explaining the parameters of his role.
And yet, the limits of Cheveldayoff’s duties with the Blackhawks at the time still remain somewhat unclear.
Prefacing a question, a reporter referenced an article from 2009 that described Cheveldayoff’s role during that time as also “dealing with contracts and agents, and represents Stan Bowman whenever he’s away.”
In this article, Cheveldayoff is quoted himself as saying, in reference to his role, “It’s truly an assistant to Stan (Bowman), in concert with him. Something that will just keep on getting defined and redefined as we keep on moving forward”.
In Cheveldayoff’s own words, prior to the assault taking place, his job as Blackhawks general manager extended far beyond the single department of the salary cap. So why, during one of the most significant sexual misconduct cases in NHL history, was Cheveldayoff suddenly relegated to just a cap specialist?
Keep in mind, too, that the meeting during which Blackhawks senior management first discussed these allegations, that Cheveldayoff was in attendance for, occurred during the third round of the playoffs, a time on the NHL calendar throughout which the salary cap does not directly apply.
How much of Cheveldayoff’s day-to-day duties, at that point in time, truly revolved around the cap? Sure, a good chunk of it was likely dedicated to planning for the impending crunch coming the next season. But the Blackhawks were about to enter the Stanley Cup Final. Was Cheveldayoff really only instructed to focus on the cap at that time — especially when he had previously described himself as an “assistant to Stan Bowman”, who likely had a full plate of his own in need of assistance?
These are all important questions. The bulk of which, for the most part, remained unanswered throughout the press conference’s hour-and-nine-minute running time.
Cheveldayoff’s recollection of events does not completely line up, either.
In a statement issued on July 22nd, 2021, Cheveldayoff said that he had no knowledge of the accusations until made aware of them directly prior to Aldrich’s dismissal on June 16th, 2010.
Cheveldayoff stated during today’s press conference that his statement was “100% true”. However, Cheveldayoff also revealed during the press conference that it was not until this year that he learned that Beach had been assaulted.
Now, the wording of that statement could, in theory, be correct.
Cheveldayoff may have been aware of the allegations without knowing that it was Kyle Beach specifically that had been assaulted. This seems to be the story he’s going with, describing what he learned in that May 23rd meeting as solely that there were claims of sexual misconduct made against Aldrich, and nothing more. But that suggests that the Blackhawks senior leadership trust called an impromptu meeting in the midst of a Stanley Cup Final run to speak only about some lewd and threatening text messages sent by a team employee, and, as a self-proclaimed assistant to Stan Bowman, Cheveldayoff was never updated on or inquired about the situation moving forward.
That is difficult to believe, especially when accounting for how Cheveldayoff would have seen Aldrich at the numerous team-sanctioned celebratory events he attended after Blackhawks management had supposedly “handled” the situation.
Even if everything that Cheveldayoff says is true, and his story completely is completely worth its merit, it’s still a disturbing display of ignorance from a member of the Blackhawks management group in the face of serious misconduct accusations.
So, while the Jets certainly handled their response better than the NHL did, that’s not an accomplishment worth celebrating.