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A Fan’s Take: An Open Letter to the NHL and the Florida Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The recent revelations surrounding the Kyle Beach incident/tragedy have been shocking and disturbing. It certainly appears that Chicago Blackhawks management and NHL Players Association representatives and/or management were aware of the incident and proceeded to engage in a cover up, or at the least, took no action.

After 11 years, the shocking details were exposed by Jenner & Block, LLP, a Chicago law firm hired by the Blackhawks to investigate the matter. So, what happened?

  • Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks’ General Manager resigned. Al MacIsaac, Chicago Blackhawks’ Senior Director of Hockey Administration also lost his job. The NHL fined the Chicago Blackhawks $2 million.
  • Joel Quenneville, at the time Head Coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and now Head Coach of the Florida Panthers, was called to NY to meet with Gary Bettman. Coach Quenneville subsequently resigned.
  • Kevin Cheveldayoff, at the time Assistant General Manager and Senior Director of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Blackhawks, now General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets, was also called to NY to meet with Gary Bettman. Cheveldayoff escaped from apparent blame and penalty and is allowed to maintain his role in Winnipeg.
  • Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the NHLPA, has called for an investigation but has not accepted any responsibility or culpability for the NHLPA in failing to act on Kyle Beach’s complaint.
  • Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL has not accepted any personal responsibility for the NHL’s inaction or failure of the organizational cultures and structures to wave red flags and raise the issue.

Let’s examine the actions that were taken:

  1. Two Chicago Blackhawks executives lost their jobs and the NHL fined the team $2 million. Many fans consider this to be a slap on the wrist. The Blackhawks retained the 3 Stanley Cups and all the ticket, sponsor, merchandise, television, and arena sales revenues and profits that go with them. For comparison purposes, the NHL made the Arizona Coyotes forfeit a 2020 2nd-round draft pick and a 2021 1st-round draft pick for illegal evaluations. Earlier, the NHL fined the New Jersey Devils $3 million and made them forfeit a 2011 3rd-round draft pick for Ilya Kovalchuk’s cap-circumventing contract. A 1st-round pick was originally in the penalty, but was restored when the NHL reduced the penalty. Many people would consider the penalties faced by the Arizona and New Jersey franchises to be more severe than those levied upon the Chicago franchise. No one was physically or mentally injured by the actions of the Coyotes or Devils; the same cannot be said regarding the Blackhawks—whose actions permitted Brad Aldrich to continue his sexual abuse in Michigan. To be clear, aside from organization disruption, the Blackhawks face no on-ice penalties or impacts.
  2. Joel Quenneville was forced to resign as Head Coach of the Florida Panthers in the midst of an historic 7-0-0 season opening as the Panthers arguably ice their best-ever team. While Quenneville was clearly with the Blackhawks organization, the Florida Panthers organization, team, and fanbase are purely collateral damage in the whole incident. Yet the Panthers are forced to suffer from both organization disruption and ON-ICE disruption.
  3. Kevin Cheveldayoff escaped without blame or punishment. The Winnipeg Jets likely suffered from some organizational uncertainty for 3 or 4 days, but face no further immediate or long-term organizational or on-ice impacts.

To sum, while Bettman and Fehr move bureaucratic pieces around the chessboard to deny/deflect responsibility and the other involved NHL organizations are left to move on, the Florida Panthers organization, team, and fanbase justifiably feels like wounded bystanders at a drive-by shooting. The Panthers played no role in the events in 2010, yet arguably suffer the worst consequences in 2021 as they are the only team to suffer on-ice impacts—and at a particularly critical time for the success of the entire franchise.

Even worse, in a way, accepting Quenneville’s resignation was an act of the Panthers’ organization “taking one for the team,” as he became a magnet for media and twitterverse attention. The entire NHL benefited from the Panther’s action.

Due to the disproportionate impacts, which is entirely collateral damage, the Panthers should be compensated by the NHL and/or the Chicago Blackhawks. If the Panthers had lost a $6 million player to an offer sheet, they would be entitled to a 1st-round and 3rd-round draft pick compensation. That should be the case here, where the Panthers lost a coach due entirely to actions/inactions by the Chicago Blackhawks.

In the rush to punish and to usher Coach Quenneville out the door, it was probably not clear and obvious what the full implications and impacts would be on the league and each of the teams. While there is still likely more fallout to come, it is clear that the Panthers took the brunt of the impact despite being bystanders to the core events.

In the interests of fairness, competitive balance, league credibility, and the image of the Florida Panthers in the South Florida market, the Panthers deserve immediate and significant compensation.

Sincerely,

JimboCoppertone

Credit for this analysis, concept, and proposal goes to my son, who wrote a supporting email to Matt Caldwell, Panthers President & CEO. As of this writing, Mr. Caldwell has not responded.