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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says confrontational response from Chicago Blackhawks’ owner Rocky Wirtz out of ‘frustration’

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has finally addressed public comments made earlier this week by Chicago Blackhawks’ owner and chairman Rocky Wirtz on his organization’s response to the Kyle Beach scandal.

Reporters questioned Wirtz and an assembled panel at Chicago’s town hall on Wednesday about how the Blackhawks planned to avoid power imbalances between players and coaches in the future, like the one beach endured in 2010 at the hands of then-video coach Brad Aldrich. An independent investigation by the law firm Jenner & Block concluded that “nothing was done” by senior leaders to prevent the harassment Beach faced, and longtime general manager Stan Bowman and vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac both resigned while others were fired because of what Jenner & Block unearthed.

“We’re not going to talk about the report [on Beach],” Wirtz said on Wednesday. “We read it. We’re moving on. I think you’re out of line. I don’t like your questions. What we’re going to do today is our business. I don’t think it’s any of your business. You don’t work for the company. If someone in the company asked that question, we’ll answer it, and I think you should get on to the next subject. We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach. We’re not going to talk about anything that happened.”

In an appearance Friday on The Point, Bettman spoke for the first time about Wirtz’s angry response to questions about Beach.

“What we saw from Rocky was frustration,” Bettman said. “[It was] an emotional – I think most media are calling it ‘an outburst’ – and the most unfortunate thing about it is, it’s completely inconsistent with all the work that the Blackhawks are doing. A lot of personnel have left. [President of Business Operations] Jaime Faulkner and [CEO] Danny Wirtz are really running things day to day. They are bringing into a wellness department, they’re having training, there’s counselling, they know they have to do everything right to create an environment that has an open, welcoming and safe culture. And that’s what they’re working on. So I just think it was an emotional moment born out of something that I know has weighed very heavily on Rocky and I think [at] the town hall and what he was really focused on was, how do we take all these things we’re doing to move forward? And I just think this was just pent-up frustration. And he apologized promptly.”

Wirtz released a statement late Wednesday night expressing “regret” over his reaction to the inquiry.

Bettman, who is in Las Vegas for the NHL’s annual All-Star Weekend, also touched on the Arizona Coyotes’ arena issues. The Coyotes are in the last year of their lease at Gila River Arena and have yet to secure a permanent new home. They are currently working out a multi-year deal to play at Arizona State University’s still-unfinished 5,000-seat venue, which would be by far the smallest capacity arena in the NHL.

“It’s not a permanent solution,” Bettman said. “As long as it’s only temporary, I think fans can have a lot of fun with it. [Coyotes owner] Alex Meruelo is committed to getting a new arena. He’s very focused on [building one in] Tempe, which is the right place for the arena to be. And since [the City of] Glendale decided, because he wouldn’t sign a 20-year lease [in their venue], that they weren’t going to renew his lease beyond this year, and the Phoenix Suns aren’t cooperating because they don’t want them playing in their building because I assume they’d like to get them out of town, this is what we’re confronted with. But the opportunity, particularly with the possibility of a new arena in Tempe, will really solidify that market, which is a good hockey market, just ask [Scottsdale native] Auston Matthews. So sometimes you have to look at the long term and not look at the short term. And think about the 5,000 people, the type of intimate experience they are going to have.”

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