Entering Monday evening with the third-best odds, it was always a distinct possibility that the Chicago Blackhawks could win the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery. But when the lottery balls fell in their favour, it constituted the bleakest timeline from both on-ice and off-the-ice perspectives.
Connor Bedard is the best prospect to enter the draft since Connor McDavid emerged in 2015. Bedard’s one-of-one shooting ability, to go along with his elite speed, creativity and capacity to make difficult plays in traffic, while coming off the best-ever performance in the history of the World Juniors, has elevated the 17-year-old into a household name in the hockey world. The idea that the Blackhawks, who covered up one of the most horrific incidents in hockey history, get to select a player who will define the franchise for the next two decades — and in short order, become the face of the NHL — is a sickening proposition for many to consider.
Kyle Beach revealed to TSN’s Rick Westhead on Oct. 27, 2021 that he was the victim in a sexual assault scandal committed under the Blackhawks’ watch, where he alleged that he was sexually abused by former video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. Beach reached a confidential settlement with the Blackhawks in December 2021, but the organization tried to maintain they were an innocent party even after Beach’s public testimony. Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz balked at the idea during an open forum in February 2022 that the organization needs to be transparent to ensure that a sexual assault scandal of this magnitude would never occur again. An independent investigation conducted by law firm Jenner and Block confirmed that major parties, including former head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman, were informed of the allegations made by Beach in May 2010 and did nothing about it, before winning their first of three Stanley Cups during the decade.
Lots of fans saying “move on, no one is there anymore” about Hawks/Bedard.
Rocky Wirtz is there, making money. No accountability & Hawks wrote a recommendation that led to kids being sexually assaulted. A sale should’ve been forced. The guy at the top is still there…
— Rachel Doerrie (@racheldoerrie) May 9, 2023
And if you take the Blackhawks at face value, or take a view from the fishbowl lens, this is an organization that wants to sweep their sordid past under the rug; out of sight, out of mind.
To be clear, Bedard isn’t culpable. He was nine years old when the Blackhawks won their last Stanley Cup in 2015, and he was in kindergarten when the organization failed Beach so miserably. The idea that he breathes new life into a franchise that still celebrates the stained dynasty as a central part of their heritage is one aspect that makes this difficult to celebrate. None of the current Blackhawks were on the team when the sexual assault scandal occurred, but there’s little reason to celebrate the lottery outcome.
Gaining the privilege to select Bedard is the result that, outside of Chicago, could only be lauded by television executives and the most cynical defenders of the league’s brand writ large. Bedard is now the face of one of the league’s largest-market teams. The Blackhawks will almost assuredly receive several nationally televised games on ESPN and you can envision Gary Bettman trying to slot the Blackhawks into the 2025 Winter Classic as his next order of business. The idea that the draft was rigged in favour of the Blackhawks is frankly ludicrous, but you can see why many hockey fans weren’t thrilled about an Original Six team getting a turbo-boost to their rebuilding efforts.
The Blackhawks have already sold $2.5 million worth of season-ticket plans for 2023-24 in the 1.5 hours since winning the #1 pick — including more than 500 new full-season plans.
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) May 9, 2023
From an on-ice perspective, this is the bleakest outcome as well. Chicago not only parted ways with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, it also traded 25-year-old Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa and 22-year-old Kirby Dach on July 7, two players that would’ve accelerated the rebuilding process. During a year where many teams elected to bottom out for a chance to select Bedard, the Blackhawks went about their business shamelessly, sporting a roster almost completely devoid of NHL-level talent. This summer’s free-agent class lacks marquee names and Bedard will immediately slot in as the Blackhawks’ top-line center, carrying a team lacking any star power or notable veteran presences. Chicago scored 204 goals this year, the fewest in the NHL. Bedard will enter next fall with little institutional support and tasked with being a miracle worker immediately.
Bedard joins a prospect pool that includes Frank Nazar (13th overall, 2022), Lukas Reichel (17th overall, 2020) and World Juniors teammate Kevin Korchinski (7th overall, 2022) — a decent trio that isn’t expected to contribute immediately. Although Bedard will almost assuredly post the best rookie scoring totals since McDavid, next season will be an icebreaker exercise, learning who the other guys are surrounding the rookie phenom. If Bedard had ended up in Anaheim, he would’ve joined a group that includes Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish. If he had ended up with Columbus, he could’ve been paired with Johnny Gaudreau and sniper Patrik Laine, or team up with ascending 20-year-old Kent Johnson. Bedard can shoot the lights out, but the Blackhawks need to find him some scoring punch, or run the risk of burning out a can’t-miss talent.
Monday night could’ve been a celebration of the deepest prospect pool we’ve witnessed since 2015, headlined by Bedard, who now instantly changes the trajectory of a Blackhawks team that traded virtually every asset it had, preparing for this outcome. Nonetheless, it’s the most desolate result for both on and off the ice reasons, overshadowed by institutional problems that are larger than the luminosity of Bedard’s imminent superstardom.