Gary Bettman defends NHL in first public comments since findings of Blackhawks scandal revealed

Gary Bettman held a press conference on Monday, defending the disciplinary actions the NHL has taken in the Blackhawks scandal. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

A $2 million fine. Or one night's United Center gate, give or take.

It seems this is the extent in which the NHL will act in the fallout from the lowest and most regrettable situation in the Gary Bettman era.

In his first public appearance since Jenner & Block announced the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 sexual assault cover-up and scandal involving former video coach Bradley Aldrich, the NHL commissioner defended the actions of the league office and the little discipline that's been doled out.

Revealing that Joel Quenneville stepped down on his own accord following a meeting with Bettman and the NHL, as well as minimizing Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's role in the failure to report the allegations at the time, the NHL has essentially dusted its hands as if to tacitly suggest its role has been fulfilled after handing down a monetary punishment against the Blackhawks.

Even then, Bettman had to defend the severity of that decision after the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes have been punished considerably more under his watch for issues unrelated to actual crime and life-long suffering.

"It was substantial by any measure," Bettman said. "It sends a message to all clubs about how I view their organization responsibilities."

One of the most contentious points in the hour-long availability (which could have easily extended into two) was Bettman's decision to allow Quenneville to coach in Florida hours after Kyle Beach revealed himself as "John Doe" in an interview with TSN.

Bettman's reasoning was that he didn't want to pre-judge Quenneville before meeting with him in person, and that the decision was rooted in "substance and not optics."

Bettman was adamant that he did not issue an ultimatum to Quenneville, and that he stepped aside as Panthers coach of his own will.

To that, the NHL stood by Cheveldayoff — the only member of Blackhawks management at the time with reported knowledge of the accusations still working in the league — throughout the press conference, minimizing his role at every opportunity. Bettman called Cheveldayoff "such a minor player in this" despite his knowledge given his seniority and what was told to him at the time.

"(He) had no responsibility for the organization’s mishandling of the situation," Bettman stated.

Another key storyline from the press conference was the apparent attempts to stonewall Westhead, who has been at the forefront of the reporting on the topic. It wasn't until late in the press conference that Westhead was called upon, and only after his colleague, TSN's Pierre LeBrun, began his question with an acknowledgement of Westhead waiting in the question queue.

Westhead would eventually have the opportunity to ask if the NHL would provide counselling to the former high school student who was abused by Aldrich following his resistance-free departure from the Blackhawks.

To that, Bettman was non-committal, failing to show any obvious amount of empathy for victims outside the NHL scope. This came after Bettman said the NHL plans to create a network to help players both inside and outside the NHL have "an outlet for help."

Bettman began his press conference by lauding Beach's courage and by letting reporters know in his conversation with the former Blackhawks prospect that the NHL "could not be more sorry for the trauma (he) has had to endure."

He said of the experience of watching Beach come forward in his interview with TSN last Tuesday:

"I was horrified. It was emotional. I was distressed. I knew that he had obviously been suffering just by watching him. I was sorry as a personal matter that anybody, particularly him, had to go through what he was discussing."

It's expected that the NHLPA will meet later on Monday to discuss the future of headman Donald Fehr, who, like the NHL, has failed Beach.

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