Corey Perry Is Everyone’s Problem
12:12 PM EST on November 29, 2023
Corey Perry, the 19-year NHL vet with 892 points to his name, was waived Tuesday after playing just 16 games for the Chicago Blackhawks. That news followed a few days of mysterious absence from the team, beginning when he didn't play last Wednesday on a trip to Columbus. On Saturday, Perry's agent released a statement saying that his client had "stepped away from the Chicago Blackhawks to attend to personal matters." However, GM Kyle Davidson said on the same day that the decision to keep Perry from the team had been made by management, and in a vague statement released by Chicago on Tuesday announcing the impending termination of Perry's contract, they attributed the move to "conduct that is unacceptable, and in violation of both the terms of his Standard Player's Contract and the Blackhawks' internal policies intended to promote professional and safe work environments."
Perry is most closely associated with the best days of the Anaheim Ducks, with whom he debuted in 2005. There, he made four all-star games as a guy who could both score and infuriate his opponents with aggressive play. Beginning in 2019, when the Ducks grew weary of his injuries and bought him out, he was a sought-after presence on a series of playoff teams—first Dallas, then Montreal, then Tampa for two seasons. At age 38, he landed in Chicago, who looked on the upswing after landing wonderteen Connor Bedard with the first pick in the draft and brought in Perry for $4 million, at least in part as a mentor who could show a talented rookie how to be a professional.
What actually happened to promptly end Perry's time in Chicago remains unclear. According to ESPN's Emily Kaplan's sources, Perry traveled with the team to Columbus on Tuesday, and "an incident occurred that day involving a team employee." When team officials learned of the incident, they made sure Perry didn't play and began an investigation.
The vacuum of nearly a week without official comment gave rise to an oft-recycled internet rumor about the player and a teammate's mother. Those rumors were pervasive enough that Davidson, in a talk with the media on Tuesday, specifically denied that the incident included any players or family members.
"Anything that suggests otherwise or anyone that suggests otherwise is wildly inaccurate and, frankly, it's disgusting," he said. When asked if there was any criminality in the Perry situation, Davidson responded, "This was a workplace matter."
Hanging over every unanswered question here is a franchise-wide pall. While every team in the NHL has a responsibility to fix a culture stained by abuse and misogyny, the Blackhawks organization and their owner, Danny Wirtz, receive and deserve extra scrutiny. In 2021, former Chicago player Kyle Beach came forward to publicly share his story of being sexually assaulted by video coach Brad Aldrich during the 2010 playoffs. The team swept the allegations under the rug, went on the win the Cup, and let Aldrich resign and move on to other hockey jobs before he eventually served nine months in prison and registered as a sex offender. The long-delayed revelations are what put Davidson into his role as GM, when Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac both resigned as the two remaining executives from that 2010 team. Danny Wirtz's father Rocky, who owned the team until his death this year, notably refused to take any accountability for what happened when given the chance in 2022.
The Blackhawks organization has done everything possible to quarantine this latest issue with their insistence that, even though it happened at work, none of their other players are involved or even aware of whatever Perry did. In this way, Perry is the bad apple tossed in the trash. But for anyone who has familiarity with Perry's career, that isolation feels antithetical to Perry's value on the ice. This isn't some anonymous fourth-line cog we're talking about, but a fixture of the game both in personality and play. After leaving Dallas, Saad Yousuf wrote a piece at The Athletic headlined, "Corey Perry’s Stars tenure was short, but his impact was large." If he had stuck around in Montreal, he was reportedly in line to become captain. “He garners a lot of respect in our team,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said almost as soon as Perry arrived there. “He’s earned it. He’s earned it in this league, and he’s already earned it in this room.”
In Chicago, as in other places, Perry was a guy specifically signed for what he brought to a locker room. That he apparently misbehaved so egregiously that he may have ended his hockey career prompts questions of everyone who's praised his leadership. Davidson's press conference was meant to exonerate his other players, allowing them an easy out when they're asked about the incident. But particularly for the Blackhawks, "I didn't know, and therefore it's not my concern" should no longer be a satisfying answer. The ugly gashes in hockey culture don't get repaired by players who merely avoid being implicated, and the story isn't over just because a team wants it to be.