Probably one of the last things anyone is, or should be, concerned about at the moment are the hockey futures of Washington Capitals fourth-liner Brendan Leipsic and Florida Panthers prospect Jack Rodewald. Actually, the more pressing concern is that someone out there – namely Leipsic and Rodewald and perhaps others – could ever think it was acceptable to behave in such a misogynistic way, either privately or publicly. Then to portray yourself somehow as a victim in your apology? Man, that’s very difficult to swallow.
In any event, it’s difficult to fathom any circumstance under which Mssrs. Leipsic and Rodewald would ever skate on an NHL ice surface again. What they did was reprehensible in the extreme. To have them play for an NHL team would fly in the face of message of inclusion the league is trying to send. Normally, there would be a good case to void both Leipsic’s and Rodewald’s contracts, but in this instance the NHL actually catches a bit of a break here in that there basically are no contracts for the league to void. At least not contracts that extend into next season.
Leipsic enters this off-season as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. In order to continue to hold his rights, the Capitals would have to give him a qualifying offer of at least one year at $735,000, which represents a five-percent raise on his NHL minimum salary. Not tendering him a qualifying offer would automatically render Leipsic an unrestricted free agent and it’s impossible to fathom that any team would want to pick him up. (The league also gets a break in that Leipsic is not a star player, so teams will not face that dilemma.) Rodewald, who has played 10 NHL games in the Ottawa Senators organization, is a pending Group VI unrestricted free agent. So essentially all the NHL has to do is ignore these two players and they will face no other choice but to go away.
Two other players whose names appear in the group chat are Leipsic’s brother Jeremey, who plays at the University of Manitoba and has since been released by the team. Another name in the chat is that of Jackson Keane, the son of former NHLer Mike Keane. The younger Keane just finished his second year playing for the University of North Dakota.
One thing that could be a bone of contention for Leipsic, however, is that with the COVID-19 crisis, NHL players have still not received their last paychecks for this season. The league and the NHL Players’ Association are currently discussing what should be done about that given that the money may end up just going back to the owners in the form of escrow payments because of the inevitable dip in revenues. But if the players do get paid, what would become of Leipsic’s final paycheck. The Capitals will undoubtedly suspend him, but will they have a case not to pay him? That would be an interesting question.
At the very least, this is a cautionary tale. Yes, these vile comments were made on a private forum that was not Leipsic’s, but they were also indefensible. There are also numerous references to drug use. It would be almost impossible for any employer, let alone one as public as the NHL, to keep someone who did that in its employ. There are those who would argue that Leipsic is unique only in as much as he was exposed. Or as one agent said, “I can tell you there are a lot of NHL players who are saying today, ‘There but by the grace of God go I.’ ” Is this indicative of the culture in the game or rather a larger societal concern?
Perhaps the most concerning thing about all of this is that while Leipsic apologized, it was couched in a the-dog-ate-my-homework fashion and did nothing to address the offensive comments he made to specific individuals. “What he should have said,” the agent said, “was, ‘I’m horrified by the comments I made and I will reach out to each and every one of the people and personally ask for their forgiveness.’ ”
Would that be enough to give Leipsic, who had played his first full NHL season in 2019-20 and has been with six different NHL organizations in the past five seasons, a chance of returning to the NHL sometime soon? Probably not. But it would have gone a long way to restoring what has become a tattered reputation.
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