New affiliation nearly dragged Kraken into hockey account for sexual misconduct

Inside the NHL

It’s a Kansas City-sized cow pie that the Kraken barely avoided stepping in last week when announcing their latest minor league affiliate.

Hours after Thursday’s pact with the Kansas City Mavericks became official, social media was abuzz about the ECHL team last season employing a player, Ben Johnson, once jailed for sexually assaulting a young girl. 16-year-old girl in a nightclub bathroom in Windsor, Ontario. 2013. Turns out the Mavericks even made Johnson a qualifying contract offer by the June 30 deadline before he opted to play overseas, meaning they still owned his rights just a few weeks before the affiliation agreement.

Kraken chief executive Ron Francis told me on Friday that he was unaware of Johnson or his story prior to the social media revelations, but was later assured he was gone. Mavericks general manager Tad O’Had, from Yakima, reiterated via email: “Ben Johnson is not on the roster and is no longer a member of the KC Mavericks. He has signed to play in Slovakia for the 22-23 season.

Of course, even if Johnson had accepted the qualifying offer, he would be an employee of Mavericks – not Kraken. The affiliation allows the Kraken to place prospects on the Kansas City roster, but the Mavericks are independently owned and have their own players not vetted by the NHL team.

But let’s face it: Johnson staying would have risked becoming a public relations nightmare for a Kraken organization that prides itself on community involvement and hockey inclusivity devoid of any threatening or abusive behavior.

Not to mention that the NHL and hockey in general are currently undergoing quite a judgment when it comes to a perceived tolerance for sexual misconduct. It all started a year ago when the Montreal Canadiens drafted Ontario Hockey League defenseman Logan Mailloux, who played in Sweden during the pandemic and was convicted there of secretly photographing a woman. while performing a sex act on him and then distributing the photo to her teammates.

Then in November, an independent investigation commissioned by the Chicago Blackhawks concluded that the team’s front office covered up an alleged sexual assault by video coach Brad Aldrich against former Everett Silvertips player Kyle Beach during the run to the team’s Stanley Cup championship in 2010. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and a key front office associate resigned following the investigation report, as did former Chicago coach Joel Quenneville from his new position with the Florida Panthers.

Beach gave a compelling TV interview castigating the internal team’s silence around her case.

And right now, just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, there’s a junior hockey scandal in Canada rocking every level of the sport right up to the NHL. It became public knowledge in May that Hockey Canada – a federally funded entity that oversees amateur hockey in this country – had settled a $3.55 million lawsuit brought by a woman claiming to have been gang-raped in June 2018 by eight members of Team Canada’s gold-medal winning roster of this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships.

The alleged crime happened in a hotel room after a Hockey Canada reception in London, Ontario.

Player names were not disclosed in the settlement, which is a problem as several are believed to currently play for NHL teams. The NHL is investigating, as is the federal government of Canada.

Some players from the 2018 squad have since gone public with their involvement. Among them is former Silvertips guard Carter Hart, now with the Philadelphia Flyers.

So, yeah, the Kraken are very lucky that Johnson didn’t accept that qualifying offer and dragged them into a dark place they want nothing to do with.

For those inclined to engage in “whataboutism” regarding scandals in other sports or to defend Johnson’s right to earn a living after serving his three-year prison sentence, hold your breath.

Yes, other sports have had issues with sexual misconduct. And yes, Johnson has served his prison term, but there’s nothing to say that he’s working in any field, especially a professional hockey job in front of the public.

Hockey’s record has also been a long time coming and should not be diminished by problems in other sports. The fact that Johnson remained a New Jersey Devils prospect and AHL player until his criminal conviction in 2016 and has been employed by two ECHL teams since his release from prison in 2018 means the Hockey executives have tolerated his past in exchange for what he does on the ice.

As for the Hockey Canada scandal, it just keeps getting worse.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has demanded answers as a federal parliamentary committee in Ottawa conducts public hearings. Last month, the Globe & Mail newspaper revealed the existence of a multi-million dollar Hockey Canada special fund used for payments in sexual assault cases.

Hockey Canada has confirmed it is maintaining the fund, which is drawn from minor hockey membership fees. This has outraged parents and youth hockey organizations, with some now threatening to withhold registration fees or pull children out of leagues. Corporate sponsors withdrew funding from Hockey Canada while federal funds were suspended.

As if that weren’t enough, police in Halifax, Nova Scotia are investigating rumors of another alleged gang rape by members of Team Canada during the 2003 World Junior Tournament co-hosted there. Half a dozen unidentified players allegedly raped a woman on a pool table in a bar while being filmed.

The majority of the 2003 team went on to enjoy NHL careers, and one member, Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, continues to do so. If true, the two decades of silence that followed raise myriad questions about how such behavior remains tolerated at the highest levels of sport.

Clearly, ECHL player Johnson – a registered sex offender in Canada – who continues to find hockey employment suggests a tolerance for his crime. And explains why this hockey-wide judgment and even the public shaming of teams and officials is deserved.

The NHL in particular, for largely profit-driven reasons centered on expanding its fan base, has waged a public crusade to open the sport up to people from non-traditional hockey backgrounds. And a key element has been a supposed zero-tolerance approach to abusive behavior.

Well, it doesn’t get much more abusive than rape.

So if the NHL wants to trumpet itself one way, then it’s fair to call out the league, the teams, the players, and their major junior, AHL, and ECHL power systems for inconsistent behavior.

Because so far, as growing evidence suggests, the tolerance for this kind of abuse continues at a rate well above zero.

Posted In NHL

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