Gary Bettman: NHL won't interfere, influence Hockey Canada inquiry

ByKristen Shilton ESPN logo
Saturday, February 3, 2024

TORONTO -- The NHL will not release its finding from a yearlong investigation into the alleged sexual assault of a woman by multiple players from the 2018 Canadian world junior hockey team until ongoing judicial proceedings have been completed by London, Ontario, police.

Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Friday that the NHL had concluded its investigatory process and was prepared to share information with the NHL Players' Association when news came down last week that police in London -- where the alleged assault took place in June 2018 -- were charging five current or former NHL players with involvement in the case. Bettman said the NHL did not know ahead of time that police would be asking those players to surrender, nor would Bettman confirm the identities of the players in question, except to say it "appeared" they were no longer with their respective clubs.

Philadelphia Flyersgoalie Carter Hart, New Jersey Devils forward Michael McLeod and defenseman Cal Foote, Calgary Flames forward Dillon Dube, and former Ottawa Senators forward Alex Formenton (who has been playing in Switzerland) have all stepped away from their teams over the past week, and lawyers for each have released public statements maintaining their clients' innocence and willingness to fight any charges.

London police are scheduled to hold a news conference Monday.

"There's a serious judicial process that looks like it's unfolding," Bettman said Friday. "And we didn't, while we were doing our investigation, want to interfere with what the London Police Service was doing. And we're not going to do anything to interfere with or influence the judicial proceedings. We're all going to have to see how that plays out."

Bettman did acknowledge that the four players under NHL contract will continue to be paid. Hart, McLeod, Foote and Dube will all be free agents after this season. Bettman said he would be "surprised" if any player returned to his team while the investigation was ongoing, but the commissioner did not anticipate the players being suspended without pay regardless of what happens at Monday's news conference.

"I don't think that's necessary at this stage. This is a complicated juris procedural matter," Bettman said. "The fact that they're away from their teams and not playing, I'm comfortable with. They've been paid the vast bulk of their salary for the year anyway. That's not the concern. The concern is to get this right."

As to whether the NHL would simply erase the existing deals, Bettman maintained that "in order to terminate a contract successfully, you need to be able to prove certain things" without elaborating further. Bettman also felt it "wasn't appropriate" for him to critique how Hockey Canada -- the sports' governing body that oversees tournaments like the world juniors -- originally handled its initial investigation into the matter.

Both Hockey Canada and the London police were informed of the alleged incident in June 2018. The woman's then-stepfather reported that she had been allegedly assaulted by multiple members of Canada's 2018 world junior team -- which was in town celebrating its gold-medal win from that year's tournament -- following a Hockey Canada banquet in London the night before. No charges were ever filed, and London police closed their investigation in February 2019. The woman filed a $3.55 million civil suit in April 2022 against Hockey Canada and eight players she alleged to be involved; Hockey Canada orchestrated weeks later an out-of-court settlement with the woman, details of which were never made public.

There were sparse references made by Bettman to what the NHL was able to accomplish in its investigation of the alleged incident, including that the league interviewed every player on the team at some point, but the woman declined to speak to the NHL.

"This task [of investigating] was complex because of a variety of factors," Bettman said. "Not the least of which was that our authority had limitations, the volume of information, the passage of time and the fact that other investigations were going on at the same time," referencing Hockey Canada and the London police.

For now at least, the NHL and NHLPA appear committed to a holding pattern.

"This is [about] charges pending," NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said Friday. "It's an investigation that will now enter the courts, and I'm going to leave it there. These players are innocent before proven guilty. Obviously, the circumstances on the case are challenging, and waiting to see how this plays out is really important."

Walsh said after the court proceedings, "then you can have the conversation" about what might happen next with these players. The primary focus for all involved now is on handling the criminal proceedings ahead.

"I think those players are probably focused on themselves and their defense right now," Walsh said. "I don't think they're focused on necessarily hockey, so I'll leave it at that."

ESPN's Greg Wyshynski contributed to this report.

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