Lazarus: Corey Perry’s presence loomed large for the Blackhawks. His absence now looms larger

CHICAGO — The Blackhawks’ locker room was abuzz with chatter, chirps and chuckles Tuesday morning as players tuned in for their morning skate. Seth Jones and Connor Murphy spoke enthusiastically about their old friend Patrick Kane’s recording, and of all places, in Detroit, reporters mingled amiably and the mood was upbeat all around.

About 12 hours later, Ice Cube’s “Check Yo Self” — the team’s victory song this season — was blaring from the locker room and the Blackhawks were smiling again after a hard-fought 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken in which they scored three goals. From the bottom six and killed 63 seconds from five on three late in the third period.

In between, the Blackhawks went through an emotionally difficult time, as general manager Kyle Davidson told them that Corey Perry was no longer their teammate following a “workplace” incident. As he did with reporters later in the afternoon, Davidson withheld most of the details of what actually happened that led to Perry’s firing.

“It’s amazing, to be honest with you,” Nick Foligno said. “We all care about Corey. But we understand that there is a standard that we will adhere to. …So, it’s a really tough day for all of us, and it’s hard not to have all the details to fully comment on. But you care about the person and we care about this organization, and they’re going to do what’s best for all of us and we have to know that and understand that there’s a standard that we have to reach.

Seth Jones described Perry as a “brother” and considered it a “difficult situation.”

“We don’t have any details of what happened, but I know the organization wants to maintain (the level of) behavior here, and (make it) a place where we hold each other to standards,” Jones said. “I think this has been broken.”

The Blackhawks fired Perry on Tuesday, six days after exiling him. He was less than two months into his only season in Chicago, yet the ramifications of the Perry saga — on the ice, in the locker room, in the front office, in the minds of hockey fans around the league — will be felt by some. time. Perry will be just 16 games into the annals of Blackhawks history, but his presence looms large, and his absence looms even larger.

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You could see the toll the past few days had taken in Davidson’s reddening eyes as he took questions from reporters looking for answers he said he wasn’t allowed to provide. You can feel the weight of what happened in Davidson’s voice. Not being able to hear the facts of the situation beyond generalities was undoubtedly frustrating, and fueled justified criticism of a franchise that has miles to go before getting the benefit of the doubt in sensitive and damaging situations. It will take years of doing the right thing for the Blackhawks to regain that lost credibility, but Davidson insisted the Blackhawks did it by the book — the new book, written by him, owner Danny Wirtz, president Jaime Faulkner and head coach Luke Richardson.

“I think more than anything else, it reinforces the resolve that we have to change the culture and make sure we’re doing the right things,” Davidson said when asked if this undermines the work the organization claims to have done to improve workplace culture. Revealing the Jenner & Block report in 2021, which highlighted Kyle Beach’s sexual assault allegations and subsequent cover-up from 2010. “Upholding our values ​​and ensuring we continue to build a culture of accountability. These are my thoughts.”

These are the facts as presented by Davidson: An incident involving Perry in Columbus was brought to the team’s attention last week. It has been reported. The Blackhawks immediately removed Perry from the team and began an internal investigation. The investigation was conducted quickly, and the findings indicated that Perry “engaged in unacceptable conduct, violating both the terms of (his contract) and internal Blackhawks policies intended to promote professional and safe work environments,” a news release said. To the team’s statement released earlier today. Perry was immediately placed on waivers for purposes of terminating his contract.

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It all happened in less than a week. Considering how far the franchise has fallen in recent years, this can easily be seen as encouraging. There was a problem. Someone felt empowered enough to report it. The team quickly dealt with the matter and had zero tolerance for it.

Questions remain, of course. The Blackhawks could certainly have good reason to withhold basic details of the incident, being a workplace incident and an internal personnel matter. Identities may need to be protected. But the blackout is fueling speculation, and social media was uglier than usual as Perry’s mysterious absence continued over the weekend. For at least 24 hours before Davidson’s press conference, such speculation was rife, with a particularly salacious and preposterous rumor involving the family of 18-year-old Connor Bedard spreading. Call it either media illiteracy, willful ignorance, or just mean-spirited “fun,” but a small Twitter/X account with no credibility managed to convince countless people that this rumor was true. Davidson was visibly upset by the rumours. But perhaps a clearer statement about why Perry was away from the team could have resulted in it being called off much sooner.

Davidson seems to acknowledge this.

“Over the past 24 hours, what has happened has been very disturbing,” he said, holding back tears. “And I feel like I’m wearing it. I’m carrying it. It’s hard to see. Yeah, it’s hard to see.”

For Blackhawk management, this was another test, a chance to prove that their newly proclaimed values ​​were more than just public relations. They failed in 2010, they failed again in 2021 when the Jenner & Block report came out, and they failed again during the Pride Night fiasco last spring. Maybe they got that right. Maybe one day we’ll find out. For now, they’ll have to continue to take slings and arrows from a very skeptical hockey world, and hope that hindsight will be kind to them one day.

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For Perry, his career — a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, 18-plus seasons dating back to the days of the old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — is now in doubt. He wanted to play until his 40s. He was the Blackhawks’ third-leading scorer and clearly still has a few years left, with a real chance to burnish his Hall of Fame credentials. All of this is now up in the air, his reputation may have been changed forever, and his career may have ended.

For the Blackhawks players, the hit is more emotional. Davidson moved quickly to replace his scoring punch, sending a fifth-round pick to Vancouver for former first-round pick and 21-goal scorer Anthony Beauvillier during the hours between his news conference and puck drop against Seattle on a day when it looked like that. will never end. But Perry was brought in to be more than just a deep scorer and power-play presence. He was brought in to be a team father, a leader and a mentor to Bidar, the most valuable person in the entire Blackhawks organization. Perry was supposed to show Bedard how to become a pro. And although “The Worm” was hated by fans around the league, his teammates in Chicago loved him, as they did in Anaheim, as they did in Dallas, as they did in Montreal, as they did in Tampa. He spoke to the rookies, led by example, spoke during team meetings, and preached “brotherhood” and “accountability.”

Then he gave up everything, leaving his brothers in the lurch, not responsible for his actions.

This is going to hurt. This will continue. This will leave a mark on Chicago — hardly the kind Davidson had hoped to leave.

(Top photo of Corey Perry and Connor Bedard: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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