7:29 PM ET
- Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.
TAMPA, Fla. — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league learned of the sexual assault allegations against former Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Brad Aldrich “relatively recently” and, while it found them “concerning,” he said it will wait until an independent review is complete before deciding on potential discipline.
“But my first reaction is, ‘Tell me the facts,'” Bettman said at his annual pre-Stanley Cup Final news conference Monday. “Once we know what the facts are, we’re in a better position to evaluate what may or may not need to be done.”
According to a lawsuit filed by an unidentified ex-Blackhawks player in May, Aldrich, a former video coach, sexually assaulted him and another player during the team’s 2010 playoff run to the Stanley Cup title. The player, referred to as “John Doe” in the filing, is seeking more than $150,000 in damages.
In an internal memo sent to staffers Monday and obtained by ESPN, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz said the team was retaining former federal prosecutor Reid Schar of the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP to conduct an “independent review” into what happened.
“We want to reiterate to you that we take the allegations described in these lawsuits very seriously. They in no way reflect this organization’s culture or values,” Wirtz wrote in the memo, adding the investigators “have been directed to follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Bettman said the NHL believes an independent investigation is “appropriate.”
According to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the Blackhawks’ deputy counsel first alerted the league office to the Aldrich allegations. Neither Daly nor Bettman specified an exact time they were made aware, but Bettman classified it as “relatively recently considering the allegations … from at least what we know publicly, are 10 years old.”
Bettman said “all options are available” when it comes to disciplining individuals or the club.
“Let us see what the investigation reveals, and then we can figure out what comes next,” Bettman said. “I think everyone is jumping too far, too fast. This is going to be handled appropriately and professionally, and done right.”
TSN reported last week that players reported the incident to then-Blackhawks skills coach Paul Vincent before the 2010 Western Conference finals. Vincent reportedly called a meeting a day later at the team hotel in San Jose, California, and shared the information with then-team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac and mental skills coach James Gary. Vincent said he told the executives to report the incident to Chicago police, but that never happened.
Bettman insisted he didn’t know more than what has already been reported by various media outlets. Chicago radio station WBEZ was the first to report the lawsuit last week.
“What we know is what’s based on what’s public,” Bettman said. “And that’s why we’re going to be interested to see what the investigation reveals and doesn’t reveal. “
One member of the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team told ESPN over the weekend that he felt the NHL was “trying to sweep the situation under the rug.” That player told ESPN that Aldrich showed up for team photos before the Cup parade and was never seen by the team again.
“There were rumors Aldrich tried to do something with players,” the player told ESPN.
The Blackhawks never announced to the players that Aldrich had departed the organization or explained why.
“It’s scary to think people could turn their head[s] and let this happen,” the 2010 player told ESPN, noting he was most disturbed by reports that the Blackhawks wrote Aldrich a letter of recommendation for his next job. Aldrich’s first job after the Blackhawks was with a high school team before becoming director of hockey operations at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, which has also opened an investigation.
After leaving the Blackhawks, Aldrich was convicted in 2013 in Michigan of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a high school student. He was sentenced in 2014 to nine months in prison and five years of probation, which ended in 2019. He is now on Michigan’s registry of sex offenders.