Oct 27, 2021

A tarnished era for the Blackhawks

A tarnished era for the Blackhawks
(USA Today Sports)

Good morning, frents.

Tuesday was a tough day. It was even tougher to write about. The Hawks have long been my favorite team in Chicago and it's crushing to see decades of money and attention repaid with such a violation of our trust.

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Tuesday's results
No games

Today's schedule
Maple Leafs at Hawks (6:30, NBCSCH)
Fire at NYCFC (6:30, WGN)

An institutional failure

John McDonough was hired in November 2007 to revive a franchise that had been named the worst in sports just a few years earlier.

Almost 14 years later, the Blackhawks have sunk themselves to an even lower spot than when he came aboard.

It's hard to see how his successors are going to pull it out after the damning details of the team-ordered investigation that was released on Tuesday. The full 107-page report — which can be read here —was compiled by an independent law firm and dives into the team's inaction when presented with a player's allegation he had been sexually assaulted by video coach Brad Aldrich in the spring of 2010.

The details are disturbing and hard to forget. And while there isn't a clear picture of how much player "John Doe" told the team — or the individual understanding of the situation by every front office member — the assertion that leadership simply didn't want to know more is inarguable.

The report states that Aldrich was given the choice between an investigation or the chance to resign. He took the latter, plus a $15,000 bonus, a day in his hometown with the trophy and more time around both John Doe and the rest of the organization — a period in which he sexually assaulted a 22-year-old intern after a night of celebrating the Cup.

Aldrich was gone after that summer, bound for two more stops in which he had close contact with young hockey players. He allegedly assaulted two men at Miami University and then a high school hockey player in northern Michigan.

None of those incidents might've happened had Hawks leadership followed not only was the right thing to do, but specifically spelled out in the organization's policy on sexual harassment.

Make no mistake.

The calculus that McDonough and the rest of his crew ultimately made in the spring of 2010 was an immense failure.

Big enough to be studied in business and leadership classes as a direct example of what not to do.

Presented with a disturbing allegation that warranted further investigation, Blackhawks leadership instead chose the immediate and easier path with a gamble the incident would never come to light.

The trade worked out for a long while, too. For much of the next decade, the Hawks enjoyed what was once an unthinkable run of success. They won three Stanley Cups in six seasons, earned unprecedented adulation from the Chicago sports fanbase and were showered with accolades from every corner. McDonough was a popular suggestion to replace Gary Bettman as the league's commissioner.

That image of success is shattered now.

All seven members of a May 23, 2010 meeting about the situation are now gone after GM Stan Bowman and VP of senior hockey operations Al MacIsaac resigned this week

Coach Joel Quenneville's once-unassailable reputation has also been damaged with the report mentioning his "desire to focus on the team and the playoffs." His current job coaching the Florida Panthers may be in jeopardy and we'll likely never see a 'Q' banner raised in the United Center rafters.

But inactions have consequences and hopefully the leaders of both pro and college sports teams are looking at this situation with the realization that fans want their teams to do the right thing above all else.

Where do the Hawks go from here?

I have no idea.

But does anyone?

CEO Danny Wirtz and vice president of business operations Jaime Faulkner have a tough hill to climb. Unlike the situation that McDonough inherited, there's no once-in-a-lifetime core of players to market around or easy decisions that anyone could make like putting games on television or bringing Pat Foley and Stan Mikita back into the fold.

The on-ice product is a disaster with a winless start in 2021 poised to slide even farther with the team currently in the middle of a COVID outbreak.

But even if this were the playoff contender that Bowman promised, it wouldn't fix the fact that the Hawks are now mentioned in the same breath as the Penn State and Michigan State scandals.

It's going to be a long and possibly unending road for the team to rebuild the trust that was wagered so carelessly in his relentless pursuit of an image that ultimately turned out to be a sham.

McDonough hasn't made a public comment since leaving the organization in 2020, but the list of questions for him is a long one.

Here's the first one I would ask.

Was it worth it?

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Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk
Kevin is the founder of Midway Minute.

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