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      Blackhawks terminate Corey Perry’s contract, but many questions remain unanswered

      The big question lingering is whether Perry's alleged misconduct has risen to the level of a material breach of his contract.

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      Embattled forward Corey Perry cleared unconditional waivers on Wednesday, paving the way for the Chicago Blackhawks to terminate his contract, which the team said it would do “effective immediately” for what it only described as a “workplace matter” and “conduct that is unacceptable.”

      Now what? The Blackhawks claimed in a statement on Tuesday that Perry was “in violation of his Standard Playing Contract and the Blackhawks’ internal policies intended to promote professional and safe work environments.” The big question lingering is whether Perry’s alleged misconduct has risen to the level of a material breach of his contract. For the test of time, NHL player contracts have been ironclad agreements that guarantee employment with only vaguely worded and limited exceptions that grant teams the right to terminate.

      Given the lack of detail provided by the Blackhawks, it is impossible to know whether Perry’s conduct met that mostly unprecedented level of material breach. Teams have previously sent players home and continued to pay them until the expiration of their contracts, but there does not appear to be one example in recent NHL history of an active player’s contract being terminated for conduct that may be inappropriate but not illegal. The Los Angeles Kings attempted to terminate Mike Richards’ contract in 2015, four months after he was charged with attempting to cross the border in possession of controlled substances, but even then the Kings were forced to pay cap recapture penalties and termination fees to Richards totaling $10.5 million over 17 years through 2032.

      According to sources, an alcohol-fueled incident involving Perry was alleged to have occurred during an event that included corporate partners and team employees in attendance. It remains unclear what allegedly took place, who witnessed it, and who reported it to the team.

      Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson said that the front office learned of the allegation while in Columbus last week and “immediately pulled” Perry from the lineup prior to a Thanksgiving eve game against the Blue Jackets. Davidson declined to provide any detail about the allegation or subsequent investigation before resulting in the termination that was scheduled to be completed on Wednesday.

      “As this is an individual personnel matter, I will not be able to disclose any details relating to the initial reporting, investigation or the findings,” Davidson said in prepared remarks on Tuesday before taking questions.

      However, we can glean from Perry’s placement on waivers and Davidson’s answers to questions, a few pertinent facts: 1) Perry’s alleged misconduct does not involve a criminal investigation; 2) the NHL was made aware of the Blackhawks’ investigation but this was a “team incident and team decision;” 3) Perry has not been suspended by the NHL and if he was claimed on waivers on Wednesday presumably would have been free to continue playing.

      That has left many other team executives and agents to wonder whether Perry’s alleged misconduct would have risen to the same level in any other organization outside of Chicago, which is still reeling and sensitive from a 2021 independent investigation revealed that Blackhawks executives covered up an alleged sexual assault committed in 2010 by team video coach Brad Aldrich.

      When asked on Wednesday whether the NHL Players’ Association would move to file a grievance in defense of Perry and, ultimately, all players with a potential precedent setting termination, an NHLPA spokesperson said that that the union was “reviewing the matter.” The NHLPA has 60 days from the date of termination to file a grievance. Perry’s agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports Management, did not immediately return a request for comment.

      According to Section 2 (e) of a Standard Players Contract, all NHL players agree “to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.”

      In the same contract, it says in Section 14 (a) that teams may terminate a deal if a player shall at any time: “fail, refuse, or neglect to obey the Club’s rules governing training and conduct of Players, if such failure, refusal or neglect should constitute a material breach of this SPC.

      Typically, that clause has only been invoked for players who fail to report or fail to keep in good physical condition. It has rarely, if ever, been used to terminate a player who violates team rules for conduct. The most recently published version of the joint NHL-NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement also lists a “Form of Standard Club Rules,” which does not specifically mention anything relating to workplace conduct.

      The Blackhawks also referenced Perry’s violation of “internal policies,” which may or may not be permissible as determinant for player conduct under the CBA. According to Exhibit 14, Note 2: “Each Club may make up to three (3) modifications and/or amendments to the Standard Club Rules. Clubs shall submit proposed modifications and/or amendments for consideration by the NHL and the NHLPA at least ten (10) days prior to the commencement of Training Camp.” It is unclear whether the Blackhawks submitted amendments to the NHL and NHLPA prior to the beginning of training camp.

      “The organization is committed to a culture of accountability and upholding our values across our employees and players both on and off the ice,” Davidson said. Davidson appeared visibly choked up when discussing the situation, acknowledging “it’s been very tough. It’s been a tough couple days.”

      Neutral league observers suggested the Blackhawks’ termination of Perry was an easy and smart step to take as a way to rebuild trust and credibility in the community. The team learned of alleged misconduct, pulled him from the lineup, conducted an investigation and moved to terminate him in a span of six days. Since Davidson said the NHL was apprised of the investigation and end result, clearly the Blackhawks received the backing of the league in their interpretation. And if Perry or the NHLPA challenged their decision via grievance, even if the end result was a settlement between player and team, at least the Blackhawks and NHL came out with a hardline stance against workplace misconduct in the meantime.

      Meanwhile, agents and players expressed concern to Daily Faceoff this week about the potential of Perry’s termination becoming precedent setting for conduct that may be improper but not illegal. After all, there are players who have run afoul of the law and never received discipline rising to the level of termination. The Los Angeles Kings terminated defenseman Slava Voynov’s contract in 2017 after he had been suspended indefinitely by the NHL and served 90 days in jail for domestic assault. The San Jose Sharks terminated Evander Kane’s contract in 2022 for failure to report and presenting a fake vaccination card; Kane and the NHLPA grieved the matter, resulting in a settlement that bridged the gap between what he was due to earn in San Jose and his earnings on a new contract in Edmonton.

      As one source asked: “Perry was in some ways disposable because he is 38 and not the face of the franchise. But what if he was 25 and had just signed a $70 million extension last summer? Can that just be washed away now with no questions asked? What about guys who are signed to long-term deals that are overpaid and underperforming? Can teams conveniently terminate those because a guy does something vaguely immoral on the road one weekend?”

      About the only thing the Blackhawks revealed publicly was that there was zero validity to a disgusting rumor floating through social media over the last week, with Davidson saying: “I do want to be very clear on this one point: this does not involve any players or their families. And anything that suggests otherwise, or anyone that suggests otherwise, is wildly inaccurate and frankly, it’s disgusting.”

      Short of that, the only thing the hockey world has been left with are more questions than answers, including exactly what Perry is alleged to have done, whether the Blackhawks have the juice to terminate his deal, and whether Perry or the NHLPA have the inclination to grieve a mostly unprecedented move.

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