The NHL just watched the top two surnames on its list of winningest coaches turn to garbage, which is easily 1/150th of the price Kyle Beach has paid. One supposes history has a weight, and certainly numbers do, but because in the Brad Aldrich saga nobody ever thought outside their own narrow parameters, the names Bowman and Quenneville now have mud on them that won’t come off. It’s not an equitable price, but maybe, just maybe, some dented history will make the point for those who might never have seen it otherwise.
Joel Quenneville resigned from his job as the head coach of the Florida Panthers last night and left with a sort-of apology for his lack of action 11 years ago when the top of the Chicago Blackhawks’ organizational chart was confronted with a report of Aldrich’s actions. His reputation as a coach was second only to that of Scotty Bowman, the father of Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, who was fired Monday for his own silence.
Cautionary tales don’t normally meet the standard for caution. Those who need to learn them the most forget them the quickest. But Bowman’s end, and now Quenneville’s, mean that their histories within the game can be dented and never repaired. People will always wonder how a coach whose final team started its season 7-0 then had to get a new coach for the eighth game. And Bowman’s historical reputation is damaged all the more because the save-the-Cup-run groupthink that kept Aldrich’s crimes hidden and unpunished put him on the wrong side of decency and honor and responsibility to the victims of which he was charged to protect.
There will be professional hardcases in the industry who will think that the Blackhawks actually got it right because the Stanley Cup comes first, last, and always, and collateral damage in this case had to include the lives and futures of people who deserved far better. They will think Quenneville should still be coaching the Florida Panthers, and Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac should still be with the Hawks, and that Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should not have his job in jeopardy just because he was also in the room when the decision was made by then–club president John McDonough to do nothing, keep doing nothing, and demand silence while he did all that nothing.
But they’re clearly wrong in all respects, and that needn’t be emphasized only because it is so clearly evident. Winning the Stanley Cup and doing the right thing were not mutually exclusive at any point, and that miscalculation resulted in long-term shame. The price of silence and even willful ignorance was paid late, but in this rare instance it was paid. And maybe the fate of Quenneville’s name and Bowman’s fame will somehow convince others to prioritize lives vs. prizes more correctly. No championship was worth this.
But for 11 years it was, and since so many more people knew or had heard about Aldrich, there are going to be a lot of unindicted co-conspirators arm-wrestling their consciences. Those 2010 rings and that 2010 parade came at a cost, and they are now asterisked as well. And sports professionals without the wit to understand the crime will certainly understand the asterisk. People in sports hate asterisks: The word is smeared with spit and suggests that championships can be besmirched by the actions of those who achieved them.
The goal is that the price Joel Quenneville paid yesterday for not letting his conscience be a better guide might actually warn the next ambitious coach or executive that every once in a rare while history comes back to extract its revenge.
And when we say “rare while,” we mean you, Roger Goodell, and your 32 supervisors. You protect the guilty, you become guilty yourself, and that $128 million you’ve made in the last two years with the Washington Football Team on your résumé might someday seem too low a rake for the legacy that may ultimately be yours. One can dream, anyway. The triumph of restorative justice at this level is not typically the way to bet, but we live in hope.