Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
DETROIT — It has been a crazy last week or so for the Chicago Blackhawks, to say the least.
Corey Perry was mysteriously held away from the team while the organization conducted a private internal investigation, which led to him having his contract terminated for code of conduct reasons. The Blackhawks still haven't won consecutive games, which is starting to take its toll on the group mentally. And Taylor Hall officially underwent ACL surgery on his right knee that will sideline him for the rest of the season.
The glue through it all has been Nick Foligno, who wears an 'A' on his sweater but has acted as the de-facto 'C' for the Blackhawks. I'm not sure what state this team would be in if he wasn't here.
"He's really one of the best teammates I've ever played with," Philipp Kurashev told NBC Sports Chicago. "He's been huge for our room and our team. He's so vocal, he's always talking and always helping everyone out. It's been some hard situations but he's really helped us get through it because he has so much experience. He's been awesome."
Connor Bedard will likely be Chicago's next captain. It's only a matter of when, not if. And he absolutely should be the next captain because this is now his team.
But right now, there isn't a better leader for the Blackhawks to be following than Foligno, who has helped the team navigate through some muddy waters and distractions of late.
"Anytime there's ups and downs throughout a season, it's very important to have those guys or certain guys that take charge and kind of control the room and they give way," Reese Johnson said. "Nick's done an amazing job of that. Ever since he came in, you could definitely tell he's got a leadership presence to him. I can't say enough good things about him.
"He's done an awesome job coming in and getting to know the guys, and most of all controlling the room through good times and bad."
Said Bedard: "It's big. Not just for the young guys, but for everyone. He's been in the league for a long time and he's been on winning teams and been the captain of good teams. Hearing what he has to say and hearing what he, from his experiences, what he knows to be successful, it's good for us."
The Blackhawks have held a players-only meeting twice this season, once after a 4-2 loss to New Jersey on Nov. 5 and another shorter one after a 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Nov. 26. You'll never guess who drove most of the conversation.
"Nick probably talked the most in those meetings," Kurashev said. "It's great. We all listen to him and we all respect him and what he's done. We all just look up to him and try to follow his lead."
Foligno says the right things, strikes the right tone, and leads through his actions as well. He is as passionate as anyone about helping rebuild the Chicago Blackhawks, and he's only worn the sweater for 21 games.
"Maybe just because I talk a lot," Foligno joked when asked how he's essentially become the voice of the team. "You know what, I am who I am. That's one thing everyone probably sees. I'm not going to change. I've seen a lot in my life on and off the ice, so whatever I can help with — in a lot of ways — I'm going to do."
It's a luxury for a head coach to have a leader inside the dressing room like Foligno, who sets an example in every way possible and holds the group to a high standard.
"He's been great from Day 1, and we knew that," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "He was great even stepping up after a game like [Tuesday] and saying some really good words to the team after the win, heartfelt and encouraging moving forward too. He's seen a lot over these years and even before that, growing up in that lifestyle with his father playing. He's perfect for the role he's in right now."
Foligno's presence, both on and off the ice, cannot be overstated. He is doing exactly what the Blackhawks brought him in to do, and then some.
In a week full of chaos, Foligno has been massive in stabilizing the waters for the Blackhawks.
"I care a lot about the players I play with and the organization I play for," Foligno said. "That's something I've always tried to do, and I'm hoping that has a trickle effect on every guy in here. It matters what we do on a day-in, day-out basis, and if you build good habits that way, on and off the ice, then it usually translates to success in the organization for yourself personally.
"I don't get caught up in it too much. Just try to be who I am and I'm lucky to go to work every day with these guys."
Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson addressed the media on Tuesday hours after the team made the decision to place Corey Perry on waivers with the intent to terminate his contract after he "engaged in conduct that is unacceptable."
Davidson opened his press conference with a statement and tried to be as transparent as he could.
"First and foremost, I want to start off by reiterating the organization is committed to a culture of accountability and upholding our values across our employees and players both on and off the ice," Davidson said. "Last week, management was notified of possible misconduct by Corey Perry. We immediately pulled him from the game and conducted an internal investigation. Upon learning the findings of the investigation, we made the decision to terminate his contract.
"As this is an individual personnel matter, I will not be able to disclose any details related to the initial reporting, investigation or the findings.
"However, I do want to be very clear on this one point: This does not involve any players or their families, and anything that suggests otherwise, or anyone that suggests otherwise, is wildly inaccurate, and frankly, it’s disgusting.
"This has been a tough situation and I understand you wanted answers. It was important that we took all the necessary steps before sharing more. I hope you can understand that I may not be able to answer everything today, but I am going to be as open and honest as I can be, given the situation and out of respect for those involved."
Davidson was not able to disclose too many details, but he was visibly distraught and emotional about it all, most notably when asked about the ridiculous rumors of the situation potentially involving players and their families.
Davidson believed the team "went through the process as quickly as we could in order to run a responsible investigation," but understood that the vagueness of Perry's absence led to the rumors running rampant.
"To be honest, I think over the last 24 hours, what’s gone on has been very disturbing and I feel like I’m wearing it. I’m carrying that," Davidson said before his voice trailed off. "It’s just tough to see. Yeah, it’s tough to see."
Davidson and the Blackhawks have worked hard to reshape their image after the 2010 sexual assault allegations that led to a house-cleaning. Nobody is more committed to making sure something like that doesn't happen inside the organization again than Davidson himself.
"I think more than anything, it reinforces the resolve we have to change the culture and make sure we’re doing the right things," Davidson said. "Upholding our values and making sure we continue to build a culture of accountability. That’s my thoughts."
When asked whether the Perry situation will lead to more internal changes, Davidson responded: "It’s so fresh that we’ll get through today and I’m sure we’ll continue to always evaluate.
"The one thing, it goes without saying whether it’s after something comes up or not, you’re always trying to be better, you’re always trying to improve. I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case moving forward. We’re always looking to be better than we were the day before."