Friday September 4th, 2015

When Jonathan Toews was invited to speak on Winnipeg’s TSN 1290 radio on Thursday, he had to know the segment wouldn’t strictly be softballs about his day with the Stanley Cup, his summer downtime and prepping for a new season.

He had to know that the inescapable subject of Patrick Kane and the allegations of sexual assault against his teammate would be broached.

So how is it possible that Toews screwed up so badly?

Without mentioning Kane by name, the interviewer asked Toews about how that situation, and dealing with teammates and the media, alters his focus heading into training camp.

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Why the Patrick Kane rape case investigation may take months

Toews responded in classic hockeyspeak. “I think you’ve just got to have confidence that things like that will resolve themselves over time,” he said. “And for the time being, you stay together as a team, you support your teammate ... teammates that are maybe going through a rough patch.”

Whoops. Rough patch? A scorer who’s gone 10 games without lighting the lamp, that’s a rough patch. What Kane’s involved in is something else entirely.

It's not so much that it's an insensitive answer. What's shocking is how unprepared he was to handle the question.

It’s no fun taking a shot at Toews, a man who surely ranks high on anyone’s list, including my own, of the league’s most respected players. He’s not just one of the world’s top players. He’s someone who makes the game better by association.

But he has to be better than what he said about Kane. And that’s not just on him. That’s on the Hawks as well.

Look, it doesn’t matter how comfortable these guys are with a microphone in front of their face. These are not easy questions to handle. I suspect most of us, myself included, would struggle to find the right words if someone we truly cared about was in Kane’s situation.

But as long as Kane remains in legal limbo these questions aren’t going away. In fact, with camp just two weeks away, this is just a preview of what’s to come for Toews and his teammates as everyone tries to come to grips with a truly terrible story.

If they need help, the Hawks might want to ask Julie DiCaro. The Chicago news anchor was asked how to better handle questions about Kane.

“For a long time, teams always issued the ‘we support our guy’ statement in reaction to allegations of violent crimes against women, not realizing that saying ‘we support our guy’ implies that the organization doesn’t support the victim,” she said. “It just folds into the endless cycle of people immediately assuming the victim is lying and that the athlete is the buddy they think he is.

“In recent years, teams have moved away from saying things like that, and I was especially pleased with the way the Cubs, Hawks, and Bulls have responded to allegations, just saying ‘We don’t know what happened so we can’t comment.‘ I think that’s the way to go.”

Toews and his teammates are dealing with a situation for which no hockey player is prepared. They could certainly use some someone like DiCaro to help them understand what’s at stake when they speak. And in the meantime we, media and fans alike, should be willing to cut them some slack as they try to navigate their way through it.

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• In other Kane news, a witness has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on Sept. 8 as the investigation into rape allegations against the Blackhawks superstar continues. The woman is reported to be the friend who accompanied the alleged victim to Kane’s western New York home. The takeaway here is that the grand jury, not the prosecutor, will ultimately decide whether charges will be brought against Kane, and according to a former prosecutor quoted by WGRZ TV it could take weeks or months to arrive at that decision. That’s a timetable that does not bode well for the Hawks or the league.

• There's a flicker of hope for hockey in Seattle: After nearly three years of political foot dragging, the Seattle Arena proposal has received design approval and is now back in the hands of the City Council.

Chris Daniels, the local reporter who’s done yeoman’s work covering this grinder of a story, says that while these final advisory votes were significant, there are still several hurdles to be crossed. The council has to approve the removal of two blocks of a city street, and there are loud objections from the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Mariners that need to be addressed. And changes made to the arena design to satisfy other issues have bumped the cost up to an estimated $550 million, a massive commitment considering that there’s no guarantee there will be an NHL or NBA team to fill the building. Still, Daniels writes, “it does appear this process is nearing a conclusion.”

• Along with bringing back Russian referee Evgeny Romasko on a full-time basis, the NHL has hired four new officials for the 2015-16 season: referee Jake Brenk and linesmen Devin Berg, Brandon Gawryletz, and Ryan Gibbons.

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Three of the four have high-level hockey backgrounds, which is evidence of a recent push by the league to identify former players with the athletic ability to match the pace of today’s faster game. They also proved their potential by paying their dues along the way. Randy Shantz, who oversaw the development of Gawryletz and Brenk while working as supervisor of officials in the Central Hockey League, believes both have what it takes to excel at the NHL level.

“Gawryletz’ skill set is skating,” Shantz said. “He has great wheels and is a solid citizen and should do well in the show. Jake Brenk came to us from the USA Hockey program. He was a former player who has a great read on the game and doesn’t put up with crap. He has poise and self confidence that should serve him well.”

Three officials won’t return this season. Veteran referee Paul Devorski retired, as did linesman Jean Morin. Referee Darcy Burchell, who spent parts of three seasons with the league, was released.

• While there’s been plenty of buzz about the absence of contract extensions for superstars Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar, another significant player is entering the final year of his current deal and he’s well worth watching. Arthur Staple of Newsday tweeted on Friday that there is “no truth to recent word of contract extension talks between [the New York Islanders] and Kyle Okposo's camp.” The 27-year-old winger will make $4.5 million this season, although his cap hit is a friendly $2.8 million in the finale of a five-year, $14 million deal. After scoring 18 goals and 51 points in just 60 games in 2014-15 (his season was abbreviated by a detached retina), he’s nicely set up to cash in on his next deal—something in the neighborhood of $40 million over six years.

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That’s not an unfair ask, even in a market that is concerned about the impact the sluggish Canadian dollar might have on the salary cap. But that also doesn’t mean it’s a price that Islanders GM Garth Snow is willing to pay. There’s been talk that Okposo can be had, and there’s a long line of teams that could use a physical winger who is capable of scoring 20-plus goals per season.

The Isles would seem to be better positioned to return to the playoffs with Okposo lined up alongside John Tavares, but if there’s no extension in place by the end of training camp, there’s a good chance that he’ll be wearing a different sweater when the regular season starts.

 Among the four rule changes going into the books for the Ontario Hockey League beginning Friday night is one that could make its way to the NHL before long. The league will now allow for video review in cases when a goal has been scored after an offside play that was not called. If the video goal judge “can conclusively determine that the play entering the attacking zone was offside, the goal shall be disallowed.” If the VGJ deems the replay inconclusive, the referee’s on-ice decision will stand. Probably not a rule that will be invoked often, but if it can prevent another embarrassing incident like the one below, it wouldn’t hurt the NHL to adopt it.

[youtube:https://youtu.be/R7pN56VZOfM]

• Eighteen months after a cardiac incident nearly ended his life on the Dallas bench, veteran forward Rich Peverley finally accepted the inevitable and called it quits on Friday. The 33-year-old will assume a role in player development department with the Stars.

Peverley had just finished a shift when he collapsed on the bench during a March 10, 2014 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Doctors were able to revive him on scene, but he was never able to get their clearance to return to the NHL.

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“It was working out, monitoring how I was doing, continuing to see doctors to exhaust every avenue and find out exactly if I could play,” Peverley said of his rehab. “It’s a case that’s very complicated, and what I have learned is there is no 100 percent to medicine and, unfortunately, I can’t play anymore.”

The good news is that he’s living a normal, healthy life away from the rink. After the incident, Peverley had an ablation procedure and a defibrillation device installed.

“[The device is] the main deterrent to why I can’t play hockey, but for all other uses, I’ve had no issues,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “I’m able to work out on an almost daily basis, I’m able to play shinny hockey with my friends, I play in a soccer league now. I’m enjoying life and I have no worries about my health.”

All the best, Pevs.

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