Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An "Insulting Proposition"

The legal tribulations and litigation's are apparently not over between Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi, as the Toronto Star reported on Tuesday about an acrimonious meeting between the two sides last year during which legal representatives of Mr. Bertuzzi and Orca Bay put a 350,000 dollar offer on the table.

Moore hada that time been seeking a settlement of 15 million dollars for the March 2004 incident, in which he had been jumped by Todd Bertuzzi and driven head first into the ice surface at GM Place.

It was an incident that found Bertuzzi charged criminally with assault by Vancouver authorities . As the legal proceedings played out their path in the British Columbia courts, Bertuzzi eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and community service

In a bid to apparently find more common ground on the civil side of the issue, last year the NHL hosted a meeting between Lawyers for Bertuzzi and Orca Bay and Moore’s lawyer Tim Danson, along with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL’s Bill Daily.

The Star published an excerpt from a letter by Mr. Moore’s lawyer, apparently released publicly by accident, in which he is quoted as describing an unsettling experience at the subsequent negotiations at the NHL offices in 2006. His offer to shake hands at the beginning of that meeting was rebuffed by the principles in the matter and he came to question whether the meeting was not a giant waste of time.

He expresses his shock at the disrespect shown to him by Mr. Bertuzzi and his representatives, suggesting that their offer of 350,000 dollars (considered by many as a the ultimate in low ball offers) was “calculated to be an insult and was an insult.”

The timeliness of the misdirected document is interesting, as it provides background on the latest legal activities in the case. Coming to public notice as Moore and his representatives filed application in Ontario Supreme Court in a civil bid to wrestle restitution from Bertuzzi and Orca Bay for Moore’s career ending injuries.

It’s not expected that the civil action will make its way to a trial for at least twelve to eighteen months, giving Bettman, Daily and the Bertuzzi side a bit of time to reconsider their approach to the issue. The revelation of the kind of wrangling that went on a year ago, will no doubt provide a bit of incentive to move the file forward without the need to go to trial.

There will no doubt be more negotiations on the way, now that the embarrassing bits of boorish backroom machinations have been publicly revealed. What could backfire on the NHL now, is that an insulted Moore may just advise his lawyer to tell them all to stick it where their torts don’t shine and take his chances in a court room.

That would provide an interesting show trial for the NHL, as the many participants in those infamous events of March 8, 2004 would be called to testify about the state of the game at that time. From Marc Crawford, to Brian Burke, Markus Naslund and Steve Moore and team mates and officials from both teams, all would relive the horrific night in question and the events that led up to it weeks before. Talks of bounties, missed disciplinary actions in past games and league inaction, would all be up for inspection.

The long standing code of the NHL, where retribution if not demanded is implied, would come under a great deal of public scrutiny. With it the tacit approval of the NHL that a bit of frontier justice is a necessity at times for the game, not an accomodation that is necessarily good for the players that are then forced to leave the game however.

In the end, we suspect that the NHL will impress upon Mr. Bertuzzi and his representatives that perhaps a more reasonable accommodation is in order, one which compensates Mr. Moore for his suffering and one that keeps the league out of what would be a well covered media event, providing the league with exactly the wrong kind of coverage that it is seeking.

It would certainly put hockey back onto the mainstream of television, but rather than ESPN or the main American networks, they would find that their day to day operations would become part of the news cycle for the portals of Court TV and Nancy Grace.

Making for a whole new audience, which for the most part would probably say that they suspected that hockey was a violent game all along. There’s a responsibility here for the participants to do the right thing, if the NHL is to be taken seriously in its claims that they have the players best interests at heart, then they need to get all the lawyers on the same page, with a settlement that will provide a suitable conclusion to this ugly bit of NHL history.

Otherwise, the night of infamy three years ago will continue to haunt this league for many years to come, leaving open the entire fabric of the game and highlighting a terrifying aspect of the sport that most will agree has no place on the ice.

Considering the recent high profile incidents of violence that continue to haunt the league, many may suggest that an open trial of the NHL may be just what the league deserves.

It's a corner that the leauge may have inadvertently backed itself into, through its involvement in the Moore-Bertuzzi negotiations a year ago.

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