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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has already faced numerous questions about the news that during the Blackhawks’ playoff run in the spring of 2010, two players had told members of the team’s senior management that they’d been sexually assaulted by video coach Bradley Aldrich, but the team had failed to contact the Chicago police about the allegations. He has deflected them all with his usual legalistic efficiency.Charles Krupa/The Associated Press

If you were given five minutes to interview NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, what would you ask him?

At the top of the first intermission break of the Game 4 Stanley Cup final broadcast on Monday night, the NHL commissioner took a seat at the top of the raucous Bell Centre for a chat with Sportsnet’s Ron MacLean. He was in town because, after Tampa Bay steamrollered over the Canadiens in the first three games, it seemed likely he might be called on to present the Cup at the end of the night.

It’s been an especially eventful couple of months for Bettman, and not even because of the pandemic. In early May, he had to publicly smack down the league’s most valuable franchise, the New York Rangers, after the team issued a heated press release calling for the NHL’s head of player safety to be fired.

A few games into the playoffs, fans and pundits began yelping about officiating that you might have called comically bad if it weren’t so tragic.

And then came the appalling Chicago Blackhawks story.

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Last month, TSN’s Rick Westhead broke the news that, during the Blackhawks’ playoff run in the spring of 2010, two players had told members of the team’s senior management that they’d been sexually assaulted by video coach Bradley Aldrich, but the team had failed to contact the Chicago police about the allegations. After The Athletic contributed its own comprehensive reporting, the story began to hang over the playoffs like an ugly storm cloud. Just before the final began, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who had been the Blackhawks’ director of pro personnel during the period in question, was called on to answer what he knew of the allegations. (He said he was not aware of anything going on at the time.)

In late June, the Blackhawks announced in an internal memo, which leaked to the press, that they had hired an investigator to probe the allegations.

And so, as Bettman popped by the Sportsnet desk, some viewers were primed for fireworks.

Already, the commissioner seemed fed up with the questions he had faced on the matter. Last Monday, on the day the final kicked off, he and deputy commissioner Bill Daly held a half-hour press conference during which the first six of eight questions related to the allegations and investigation. By the six-minute mark, when he was asked how the league might respond to the investigation once it concludes, Bettman was growing uncomfortable.

“Let us see what the investigation reveals, and then we can figure out what comes next,” he replied, evidently exasperated. “I think everybody’s jumping too far, too fast. This is going to be handled appropriately and professionally, and done right.”

How, then, might the encounter with MacLean unfold?

The end-of-season faceoffs between the two men used to be riveting, appointment viewing, with the Hockey Night in Canada host buttonholing the commissioner on a range of issues – from collective bargaining to player safety and league finances – in legendary encounters that sometimes felt like suited versions of the league’s on-ice pugilism. (During some, I half expected Bettman to drop a pair of gloves, pull MacLean’s suit-jacket over his head, and start pummelling.)

In one infamous encounter in 2010, Bettman, aggravated by a series of rapid-fire questions from MacLean about the financial health of certain franchises, replied testily: “What inside of you compels you to want to go in that direction? Because I don’t believe your viewers are really interested in the franchise [status].”

When Sportsnet nabbed the national NHL rights away from CBC starting with the 2014-15 season, MacLean was replaced in the host’s chair by George Stroumboulopoulos, a capable and charming broadcaster who had no baggage with Bettman. Two years later, MacLean returned, but the fire seemed to have been snuffed out.

On Monday night, MacLean spent his 5½ minutes on-air with Bettman asking about matters that, to be honest, seemed to have occupied most of the sports talk airtime recently, including the state of officiating, and why the NHL hasn’t yet given the green light for players to go to the Beijing Olympics, as well as a bit of feel-good hokum about a 104-year-old hockey fan in Dunnville, Ont.

Within seconds of the segment ending, Hockey Pundit Twitter unloaded on MacLean: How could he have failed to ask about the Blackhawks?

Some speculated darkly, with a whiff of conspiracy. Ken Campbell, the respected former senior writer of The Hockey News, urged critics not to be so hard on MacLean. “I have to think one of the conditions of the interview was that he was not allowed to ask about that subject,” Campbell tweeted. “In that case, you either have to comply with those demands or turn down the opportunity to interview him. Perhaps that’s what Sportsnet should have done, but I doubt that would have been Ron’s call.”

TSN’s Salim Valji wasn’t willing to cut MacLean any slack, tweeting that his failure to ask questions about the “sexual assault coverup allegations is an ENORMOUS dereliction of journalistic integrity and duty IMO.” Others declared that the lack of questions reflected hockey’s unwillingness to question its own toxic culture.

Strong words. What, though, do we consider MacLean’s duty to have been in this case? On the one hand, Bettman had already faced numerous questions on the matter, and had deflected them with his usual legalistic efficiency. But that was in a press conference that may have been seen by tens of thousands; the average audience for Sportsnet’s Game 4 broadcast was about 3.7 million.

Still, Sportsnet is in the business of entertainment, and it has to walk a fine line: The potential final game of a pandemic-laced season isn’t the ideal place to bring up a matter as weighty as a sexual assault cover-up, especially in a brief drive-by. It would have just spoiled the fun.

But the reaction speaks to a growing rot and cynicism among fans. As televised sports have become mammoth businesses that are suspicious of anything that does not radiate fealty, viewers don’t really expect broadcasters to critically cover the professional leagues to which they pay billions of dollars.

They’ve become cynical, because they assume they know who calls the shots in this world. Even if sometimes those assumptions are wrong. I asked Sportsnet to comment on the online speculation and criticism. They sent me back a statement attributed to MacLean. “There were no topics off limits for my interview with the commissioner,” he said. “I made the decision in the moment to not ask the question, as I knew there was no new ground to cover based on the commissioner’s comments from his media availability earlier in the series.”

That won’t satisfy the critics. But then, it’s hard to know what will.