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Panthers, Jets must decide if they, too, need to win at all costs

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If one thing was proven abundantly clear about the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks management team and coaching staff, it was that winning, and maybe more importantly opening up a championship revenue stream, was more important than being decent. 

Now two other NHL front offices have to make the same prioritization in the fallout from the explosive and upsetting announcement delivered Tuesday from law firm Jenner & Block.

After previously denying they had any knowledge of the incident involving disgraced former video coach and felon Bradley Aldrich, the independent investigation into the matter revealed that both Joel Quenneville, the current head coach of the Florida Panthers, and Kevin Cheveldayoff, now the Winnipeg Jets general manager, were well aware of the allegations at the time. 

They were among seven members of hockey operations team involved in a meeting to discuss the incident and next steps in the days after the alleged sexual assault occurred.

In the case of Quenneville, he was among those outspoken about how the incident, and the escalation of the matter, could affect the team's chances on the 2010 postseason run.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he plans to meet with both Quenneville and Cheveldayoff about the findings from the report and their roles in the organization's gross mishandling of the incident, but it shouldn't even make it that far. 

Because if the Panthers and Jets continue to stand by these hockey men, they are making the exact same decision that Chicago made more than 11 years ago, which is that winning supersedes morality.

It appears the Panthers are leaning that way, or at least waiting until Quenneville meets with the NHL following Wednesday's game versus Boston, to make a decision.

Florida is in an eerily similar position to that of Chicago. No, the Panthers aren't on the doorstep of winning a championship six games into the season, but they are starting on a path toward maybe their best-ever season at 6-0. 

Are they willing to disrupt that?

Or will they, like the Blackhawks, turn the other cheek in the interest of winning?

Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville looks on from the bench during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)
Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville will be behind the bench Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

Where was the leadership?

Of the many distressing details into the investigation into Aldrich and the incident involving a former NHL player — which in the report went under the pseudonym of John Doe — was the role of the players, and, more specifically, how Doe's teammates refused to support their colleague.

All too often we romanticize the idea of the hockey teammate. We ask rhetorically, what other athletes would drop down in front of a blistering slap shot to preserve a one-goal lead, or risk their teeth, or exchange punches with a bigger, stronger opponent in the name of someone on the end of their bench?

Hockey players will do anything for one another, at least we've been led to believe. 

And yet, one of the greatest teams assembled, which has been led by one of the most lionized captains of the modern era, wouldn't listen, wouldn't show compassion, and wouldn't stand by one of their own. Instead the neglect for John Doe made him the butt of jokes, and he was bullied within the NHLPA fraternity until his playing days were through. 

Former president John McDonough made the decision to not report the incident in a timely fashion. Stan Bowman, Al MacIsaac, Cheveldayoff and Quenneville allowed that to happen, and perhaps in some cases advocated for that. But let's not get this twisted: regardless of ranking and placement on the chain, each and every one of those players were aware of the incident as well, and could have stepped up and did the right thing. 

Except the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa didn't.

The rotten stench around around the legacy of this organization and this early 2010s dynasty will last forever. 

These players shouldn't be able to escape it either.

'Steps aside'

The Wirtz family took appropriate action following the release of the findings, announcing that not a single member of management from that time would work in the organization moving forward. Still there's reason to be irritated by the manner in which Bowman in particular was shown the door.

It may be so that Bowman took his boss's word, and that he believed McDonough would make the right decision in the handling of the Aldrich situation. We all answer to superiors. But at a certain point, ideally long before the sexual abuser is revelling in a Stanley Cup celebration in the presence of his victim, it was worth finding out for sure.

Allowing him the dignity of "stepping aside" and thanking him for both his many years at the helm and the integrity and professionalism he showed through the investigation process, they aimed to build Bowman into something of a sympathetic figure.

Later USA Hockey did something similar when it announced that Bowman would not lead the U.S. Olympic team into Beijing. 

At a certain point, we need to stop softening the blow. 

Bowman lost his job because he deserved to lose his job.

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