RALEIGH, N.C. — As the hockey world reflected on its flaws Wednesday, taking an important step toward improving its culture, Jonathan Toews sounded stuck in time, tone-deaf to the mood of the day.
Addressing the media after the Blackhawks’ loss to the Maple Leafs — Toews’ first public comments since the conclusion Tuesday of the investigation into an alleged sexual assault and victim Kyle Beach’s step into the spotlight Wednesday — the Hawks’ captain struck all the wrong chords.
Toews’ passionate defense of disgraced ex-general manager Stan Bowman was the worst of all, but his comments weren’t exactly commendable before that.
He first said he didn’t want to “exonerate himself,” but then promptly emphasized he didn’t know about former video coach Brad Aldrich’s alleged assault of Beach until training camp the next season, at which point Aldrich was finally out of Chicago.
In comparison, Patrick Kane, speaking minutes before, led by praising Beach, saying it was “very courageous for him to come out and let his name be known to the world after everything he went through.”
Toews recalled hearing the story from a “bunch of guys” talking outside the Sutton Place Hotel on the Near North Side, where the Hawks were holding a meeting before the start of their 2010-11 training camp. But even then, he did “not really” consider taking any action in response.
“I thought what I’d heard was the beginning and the end of it,” Toews said. “Not that it was a joke, but it was something that wasn’t taken super-seriously at the time. I thought [Aldrich] being let go or resigning from the organization was the way that it was dealt with. To me, it was water under the bridge.
“Had I been more connected in any way to the situation and known some of the more gory details of it, I’d like to say, yeah, I would’ve acted differently in my role as captain, for sure.”
Toews described Beach as a “happy-go-lucky kid” — the same term used by Kane, who apparently knew Beach a bit better than Toews did — but focused more on Beach never spending ‘‘too much time here in Chicago” and that he “hasn’t been in contact [with Beach] for quite some time.”
While sentences of sympathy were scattered about, Toews’ comments carried a subtle yet discernible tone of separation and self-preservation taking precedence over responsibility and remorse.
And Toews’ goal to preserve himself and those most influential to his career — which Beach, his NHL dreams ruined by a cover-up that made him feel like he “didn’t exist,” evidently was not — carried over when he was asked if his opinions of Bowman and also-removed longtime executive Al MacIsaac had changed this week. On that front, Toews’ tone shifted from subtle to explicit.
“To me, Stan and Al, make any argument you want, they’re not directly complicit in the activities that happened,” Toews said.
“I just know them as people, and I’ve had a relationship and friendship with them for a long time as part of the Blackhawks family. People like Al and Stan have made coming to the Blackhawks . . . one of the special places to play hockey.
“Regardless of mistakes that may have been made, for someone like Stan, who has done so much for the Blackhawks — and Al, as well — to lose everything they care about and their livelihoods, as well . . . I don’t understand how that makes it go away, to just delete them from existence and [say], ‘That’s it, we’ll never hear from them again.’ ”
(To clarify, the investigation determined Bowman and MacIsaac were involved and complicit in the May 23, 2010, meeting in which Hawks brass determined not to take any actions regarding Aldrich until three weeks later, after the Stanley Cup Final.)
Kane and coach Jeremy Colliton also mentioned their own strong personal relationships with Bowman, but did so in a way that made it clear they nonetheless understood Bowman’s culpability in Beach’s tragedy.
Kane called Bowman’s resignation “necessary” and “right,” albeit with some couching. Colliton said the actions detailed in the report were “unacceptable” and later apologized, unprompted, for “not being more specific about my sympathy and admiration for the courage of the victims . . . especially Kyle Beach.”
“It’s up to us, in leadership positions, to do everything we can to protect those without power,” Colliton added.
Meanwhile, Alex DeBrincat — who was 12 in 2010, nowhere near the Hawks — impressively withheld no punches when asked about Bowman’s exit, saying it was “a change that needed to happen” and “a good thing we parted ways.”
Yet Toews, despite being the most powerful player in the Hawks’ locker room in 2010 and 2021, somehow missed the whole ‘‘accountability’’ memo.
Ultimately, Toews’ careless interview won’t cost him his spot on the team, strip him of his captaincy or directly affect him in any significant way. Part of that is because of hockey culture’s aforementioned flaws. Another part is because Toews — as a player — truly was not as blameworthy in the cover-up as his coaches and team management.
On a day when the Hawks and the hockey community needed to deliver empathy and demonstrate progress, Toews fell far short on both fronts in a disappointing and unsettling way.