NHL supports Blackhawks in Patrick Kane training camp decision


The hockey world is still processing the Chicago Blackhawks’ training camp press conference fiasco on Thursday, in which they brought out embattled star Patrick Kane; had him read a prepared statement; inexplicably had him answer questions; watched as he dodged any question that referenced the ongoing rape investigation of which he’s the subject; and then had three team officials and three players offer ‘no comment’ on a few dozen questions “out of respect for the legal process.”

Sample answer, from team president John McDonough:

“I’m really not at liberty to comment. This is an ongoing legal process. Out of respect to that, we’ll discuss this at another time.”

You might wonder, as we did, how the NHL felt about this press conference. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly released a statement (via Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune), which read:

“We have remained in close contact with the Blackhawks’ organization over the last seven days and, given the circumstances that exist now, we support the club’s decision in this situation.”

There was some thought that the NHL could step in to suspend Kane if the Blackhawks chose to have him at camp, evoking Section 18-A.5 of the CBA that gives Commissioner Gary Bettman the power to suspend a player that creates “a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.”

Obviously that’s something that isn’t happening now, but Daly’s “given the circumstances that exist now” signals that if a grand jury indicts Kane, the NHL’s approach could change. It suspended Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings after he was arrested for domestic assault. The Blackhawks also said they would reevaluate if Kane was indicted.

A few more items from today’s press conference:

* McDonough was on defense, even as he was dodging all questions about Kane’s investigation.

When asked if the decision to bring Kane to camp was “tone deaf” given the outrage from Blackhawks fans, and especially women in the fan base, he shot back: “I can assure you that I am anything but tone deaf.”

When asked if the report that he was “volcanic” when he heard Kane was under investigation was accurate, McDonough said “I can also assure you that whatever the reference was to a volcanic eruption, which I read at that time, was a complete fabrication.”

* McDonough said that the decision to bring Kane to camp was made after “conversations with Patrick’s legal representatives.” When asked if the Blackhawks had spoken to the alleged victim’s lawyer or police, he said, “I don’t know who else we’ve had contact with.”

* When asked why they brought Kane out for a press conference in which “he answered nothing” from the media, McDonough said: “That’s the assessment you have to make, that we would bring him in front of you to say essentially nothing,” he said. “We take a lot of time to weigh these decisions. A lot of people weigh in on those. For me to expound on those at this point wouldn’t be appropriate.”

* McDonough, on whether the Blackhawks will seek to treat Kane for a drinking problem: “We’ll address that at the appropriate time.”

* Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook met the media as well, and against dodged any questions about Kane to focus on hockey. "Anything else that's being talked about away from the rink is a non-factor for us,” said Toews.

* Keith, when asked if Kane would be received as a leader in the dressing room this season: “I think so.”

* Finally, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press asked Calgary Flames president Brian Burke – a former agent who also worked for the NHL – for his take on a potential Patrick Kane suspension:

"If you were accused but not charged of sexual assault, would you be allowed to go work tomorrow? Yes, you would. And if your employer tried to prevent you from doing so, you would win the grievance," said Burke. "People say they want cookie-cutter justice but it’s not possible. It’s like a shoe store. You don’t walk in and they just hand you a pair of shoes. You have to get measured and talk about style and colour etc. You have to take into account the severity of the crime, the evidence that’s available and any number of issues. The player has the right to due process. Cookie-cutter is impossible. I applaud what the league is trying to accomplish."

So there you go.