Corey Perry’s focus is not on hockey right now.
As the veteran forward made clear in a statement released after the Chicago Blackhawks terminated his contract for a material breach, Perry is prioritizing his family and his health in this period in which he’s not employed by a team during the NHL season for the first time since 2004.
“I have started working with experts in the mental health and substance abuse fields to discuss my struggles with alcohol and I will take whatever steps necessary to ensure this never happens again,” Perry wrote in a statement released Thursday. “I hope to regain the trust and respect of everyone who has believed in me.”
The specific details of what caused Chicago to cut ties with its alternate captain remain unknown. Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson called it a “workplace matter” and indicated that it didn’t involve criminal activity.
His organization is understandably sensitive to any incident involving employee misconduct after it failed to act in 2010 when former player Kyle Beach alleged he had been sexually assaulted by video coach Brad Aldridge. The Blackhawks paid a $2 million fine to the NHL for “inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response” when details of that situation emerged in 2021 and also reached a confidential settlement with Beach.
Still, a contract termination like the one they initiated with Perry is rare in the NHL — particularly since it involves a former Hart Trophy winner who has a borderline case for eventual induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In recent years, NHL clubs have typically executed contract terminations in cases involving criminal charges (Slava Voynov, Mike Richards) or for lesser transgressions involving bottom-of-the-roster players (Brendan Leipsic, Jake Dotchin).
Perry’s case appears to land somewhere in the middle of those two poles, at least based on how Davidson loosely framed what went on during an emotional media availability in Chicago on Tuesday night.
Even at age 38, Perry was an important player for the Blackhawks. He was wearing a letter, being paid $4 million to serve as a mentor in a young dressing room and sat as the team’s third-leading point producer when information reached management last week that prompted his removal from the lineup while an investigation was launched.
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By Tuesday, Perry had been placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of contract termination. It was a stunning turn of events with potential repercussions extending far beyond the situation at hand.
With no disrespect intended toward anyone affected by Perry’s actions and no judgment passed on the circumstances that led him here since they remain largely unknown, it’s worth stepping back to understand what represents reasonable grounds to terminate an NHL contract.
The standard is exceptionally high.
All deals are intended to be fully guaranteed.
And yet the terms of a standard player contract don’t offer complete clarity on what constitutes a material breach because while section 2(e) calls for a player “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,” Paragraph 4 in the SPC provides that a team may “establish reasonable rules governing the conduct and conditioning of the Player.” But in the event the player violates those rules, the punishment is limited to a “reasonable fine” or suspension from the team.
The standard for a breach worthy of contract termination isn’t expressly spelled out.
We can only lean on history as a guide, and the examples are varied: Everything from the Tampa Bay Lightning moving to terminate Dotchin’s contract because he showed up to training camp out of shape in 2019, to Leipsic’s deal being terminated by the Washington Capitals in 2020 after private conversations became public where he discussed drugs, women and fellow NHL players and their significant others, to the San Jose Sharks terminating Evander Kane’s contract in 2022 after after he presented a forged vaccination card and failed to report.
The Kings terminated Richards’ contract in 2015 after he was charged with trying to cross the border in possession of controlled substances — although they eventually agreed to pay the player a portion of his remaining salary and got hit with a negotiated cap charge through 2032 as part of a settlement stemming from a grievance.
And Los Angeles terminated Voynov’s contract two years later after he was charged with domestic assault.
In Perry’s case, the Blackhawks said in a statement this week that he “engaged in conduct that is unacceptable, and in violation of both the terms of his Standard Player’s Contract and the Blackhawks’ internal policies intended to promote professional and safe work environments.”
Where exactly the line should be drawn isn’t entirely clear.
For example, when video surfaced of Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2019 with what appeared to be cocaine on a table in front of him, he was suspended three games by the team for inappropriate conduct.
Judge the individual acts laid out here as you may. The point is that an NHL player found to have conducted himself in an unprofessional manner doesn’t always find himself with a terminated contract.
Perry has 60 days to decide if he wants to file a grievance via the NHL Players’ Association. The matter remains under review, according to a union spokesman.
Should he elect to go that route, it would be an exercise in preserving his earning power.
Perry is entitled to keep approximately $1 million of his $4 million salary after spending roughly 25 percent of the season on the Blackhawks roster prior to having his contract terminated, which means he technically owes money back to the organization because he received a $2 million signing bonus over the summer.
However, he does have the right to take his case to an independent arbitrator, pursuant to Article 17 of the NHL’s CBA.
In the event it happens, Perry would be fighting to receive the entire amount of remaining salary owed on his contract in 2023-24. There’s no circumstance where he could be reinstated to the Blackhawks roster and resume playing there in the short term.
Filing a grievance would also open up the possibility of reaching a negotiated settlement the way Dotchin and Richards did. Kane also received money from the Sharks to help make up the difference between what he was originally owed by them and what he received on the contract he signed as a free agent in Edmonton.
Perry is already an unrestricted free agent and possesses all of the rights afforded to any player in that situation.
He’s eligible to enter into a contract with another NHL team right now. And he would need to sign somewhere by the March 8 trade deadline in order to be able to dress in the upcoming playoffs.
There’s not yet any indication that a return is even remotely a priority for Perry. His statement focused entirely on addressing the remorse he felt for harm caused by his actions and disclosing his need to start treatment for struggles with alcohol.
“I would like to sincerely apologize to the entire Chicago Blackhawks organization, including ownership, management, coaches, trainers, employees, and my teammates,” Perry wrote. “I would also like to apologize to my fans, and my family. I am embarrassed and I have let you all down.”
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Rival teams currently with no more knowledge about what led to Perry’s contract termination than the general public are expected to keep tabs on his situation. They’d like to gain a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding his exit from Chicago to gauge if he may ever be in a position to resume his hockey career, and will eventually need to see where he’s at personally after being given time off to seek treatment.
There may yet be a path back to the NHL for Perry.
Only time will tell.
(Photo: Claus Andersen / Getty Images)