Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Decision

Suspended for the rest of the season, the playoffs and we revisit the situation prior to the next season. That is the fate of Todd Bertuzzi, for his much examined attack on Steve Moore.

Colin Campbell's decision was announced at 6 am Pacific time, a not unexpected ruling as many observers had come to the conclusion that some kind of message had to be spent this time. The League also fined the Vancouver Canucks 250,000 dollars for not exhibiting better control on the passions of their players. Which while a wonderful statement of accountability, rings with all the sincerity of installing a smoke detector after the house has burned down.

The NHL has forever and a day held a double standard on violence on the ice and this week the chickens came home to roost. The Canucks/Avalanche animosity had been building for three weeks, indeed the dislike for each other has intensified over the years. But the immediate troubles began in mid February, when Steve Moore elbowed Marcus Naslund at centre ice at the Pepsi Centre. The resulting concussion and lacerations took Naslund out of the Canucks line up for close to ten days. There was no penalty called on that play, let alone a suspension, a situation that left coach Marc Crawford apoplectic.

The Canucks management expressed disgust at the play of Moore, the players on the team vowing that some kind of revenge would be exacted for the transgression. The rhetoric growing with each passing day, players and management fuming over the situation. The league issued no public warnings at that time, nary a word, Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell attended the next Canucks/Avs matchup, a game which was a hard hitting affair but did not deteriorate as the one on Monday night. Feeling that the situation had been resolved, it became business as usual in the NHL.

After that we were treated to the Flyers and Senators setting a new NHL record for fighting penalties in a game, the entire third period of that game given over to shift fighting, every line change resulted in a brawl. By the end of the game only six or seven players were left on the respective benches. The after game histrionics just as ridiculous as the on ice activity, Bobby Clarke pounding on the Senator dressing room calling for Jacques Martin to come out. Reminding the media that the Senators had to come through Philadelphia one more time this year. Veiled threats from coach Ken Hitchcock, that Senator player Martin Havlat would soon be handed his lunch. Again, there was no comment from the League.

In fact it has been the leagues inaction over the years on the ever increasing stick fouls,uncalled for cheap shots and brawling that has set the table for the problems of today. There are far too many incidents to list but a couple of examples, might best exemplify how inaction has caused the black eye of the sport these days.

Martin Havlats high stick on Mark Recchi just one of many stick fouls in the NHL this year, Havlat a repeat offender on high sticks, should have been suspended for the incident.

Bobby Clarke's and Ken Hitchock's ruminations on the same incident, they implicitly declared a fatwa on the Senators by their comments. The league should have fined and suspended both for conduct detrimental to the game.

There has yet to be any suspension announced from that record setting penalty filled Friday Night game, one wonders how a game could rack up that many penalty minutes and not have anyone suspended!

Likewise the comments of the Canucks Brad May, who first brought up the idea of a bounty on Moore after the Naslund incident. Had the league expressed any kind of concern at that time, perhaps the entire ugly affair on Monday night would not have taken place. Marc Crawford and Brian Burke's comments did nothing to defuse the festering situation. No warnings were issued publicly, perhaps in the quiet study room at the NHL headquarters they made a few calls, but as far as the public was concerned the spiraling commentary only promised a settling of accounts.

Remember Claude Lemieux and Kris Draper, Lemieux suspended only two games for his blatant hit from behind on Draper, no was message sent then. The rivalry of the Avs and Red Wings continually bringing up the incidents of the past, as a form of marketing at times.

Matt Johnson's attack on Jeff Beukeboom, Johnson was back after a ten game suspension, Beukeboom never returned to play. Johnson going on to other infamous incidents over the years.

You can find many more examples through the years.

The simple fact is the NHL has no idea how to run the day to day activity of the game. Until the parameters are laid out completely for all teams, these situations will continue to occur over and over again.
Rules for stickwork have got to be made clear, punishment increased. Same thing for fighting, a fight per game you should be gone, ten minutes no longer a sufficient form of punishment nor message. And somehow the league has got to get the message across to it's players, that they are responsible for their actions and need to show more respect for each other than they do now.

The suspension issued today to Todd Bertuzzi was deserved and wholly appropriate, it punishes him and his team for what was a very ugly incident. It doesn't address the larger issue of overall culpability however, the League itself needs to take a good long hard at it's stewardship of the sport. The wink and a nod days are done, otherwise the reputation of a great game will continue to find itself under the glare of scrutiny. The hypocrisy of the league officials, stands out as one of the key components of the situation. Had they exhibited a more proactive approach to events under their domain, perhaps we could be discussing goals, games won and playoff drives, rather than suspensions, injuries and police investigations.

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