A RIVALRY GONE TOO FAR

 

Well, Todd Bertuzzi, now you’ve done it.  Are you happy now?   Has retribution been served?

Are you happy Brad May?  Are you happy Brian Burke?  Marc Crawford?

Are you happy Vancouver?  Are you happy NHL?

I personally have no problem with a great rivalry and a good brew-ha-ha, but what transpired in the 3rd period of the Colorado-Vancouver game on March 8th can only be described as sickening, embarrassing even, for the players, the team, the fans, and the league.  There is no room in our game for this type of action, none whatsoever.  While I applaud the NHL for addressing it in somewhat of a timely manner (they did after all delay the announcement of their assessment, which subsequently delayed this column – thanks Colin Campbell), it becomes a story of too little too late.

What exactly was Bertuzzi thinking?  What passed through his mind in the three seconds it took to sucker punch Steve Moore in the head and take him down to the ice?  Better yet, why did he do it?

It seems every so often we revisit this discussion as some bonehead somewhere puts somebody in the hospital.  It all boils down to what I’ve commented on before in one of my very first columns ever, a complete and utter lack of respect amongst the players, and perhaps now it’s gone beyond the players and spread to the coaches and management.  (Check out “Something’s Amiss” in the Puckin’ Around archives).

In all seriousness though, can we place the full blame for this solely on Bertuzzi?  Why was there no intervention from coach Marc Crawford to say enough is enough after Brad May got into two fights with Peter Worrell and Matt Cooke with Moore?  Why didn’t Marcus Naslund, the team captain, step up and say he didn’t condone the type of retribution they were planning?  Why did Brian Burke stand at the podium on trade deadline day and state he backs up Bertuzzi 100%?  Was Burke the catalyst in this whole thing?  Did he enter the dressing room after the hit on Naslund and offer a bonus to anyone who dared take out Moore?  Why did May find it necessary to run Colorado’s goalie David Aebischer every time he scored?  Finally and most importantly, why did the NHL not at the very least address the Moore hit on Naslund, and fine Crawford, May and Bertuzzi for making the statements they made prior to what transpired?

Given Burke's comments leading up to and after the ruling by the NHL, it is clear to me he still doesn't get it.  Regardless of the situation, you just can't do what Todd Bertuzzi did.  The argument can be made if there had been a penalty called on the Moore on Naslund hit there would have been none of this, but regardless, you just can't go around knocking out guys over a borderline elbow.

Why does the NHL continue to work on a reactive rather than a proactive basis?  What would have been wrong with a warning memo to both teams saying “we’re watching you so no funny stuff or else”?  Too many questions unanswered, and we all see the result.

At the end of the day though, it was the incident itself which is uppermost in everybody’s mind.  Bertuzzi followed Moore around the ice during his entire shift, before grabbing him by the jersey and blatantly punching him in the head and while Andrei Nikolishin tried to stop him ended up falling on the ice, Moore’s head going with him.  It’s a miracle things weren’t much worse.  I know Todd has shown a lot of emotion and remorse over what happened, but it doesn't change it, and subsequently the league had to assess it for what it was, a vicious hit, intent to injure or not.

Let’s face facts, if you or I did something like this out on the street, there’d be no question we’d be sitting in jail right now awaiting further repercussions from the courts.  We wouldn’t be allowed to hold a press conference where we’re able to cry on national television and say we’re sorry, and we sure as hell wouldn’t have the 100% backing of our employers!  We’d be arrested, arraigned, charged and forced to live with what’s happened.  If a bank robber just so happens to shoot the teller, it makes no difference whether or not they intended to do it.  This isn’t to say Bertuzzi doesn’t face more consequences, as the Vancouver Police have been all over this and are conducting an investigation of their own, but something tells me when the dust settles he'll get off easier than O.J. Simpson.  The only thing he really loses here is a chance at winning the Stanley Cup, if Vancouver can still be considered a contender.

When situations like this arise, I’ve always believed the punishment should be on par with the amount of time the victim is out.  Personally I thought a one year ban for Marty McSorley’s clubbing of Donald Brashear was a tad harsh, not for the act itself, but because Brashear was back in action within a month of the incident.  The difference here was all the trash talk that led up to the attack.  They said there would be retribution, but I don’t think anybody expected this.

No question, the act in itself is deserving of the punishment received, maybe more.  Bertuzzi will miss the rest of the regular season and the entire playoffs, and a re-evaluation during training camp in September 2004 by Mr. Bettman himself, assuming there’s even a season.  Furthermore, the league fined the team $250,000 because "we felt they could have done more in this situation to control their players”, Colin Campbell said.  “We don't feel they took the temperature down”.  Indeed.

In my mind, if Vancouver really wanted to get retribution for what happened, the best way to do it would have been on the scoreboard.  Perhaps if the team would have had their mind on the game and not on what to do about Moore, they wouldn’t have been so sloppy defensively and they would never have allowed the Avalanche to build a 5-0 lead after the first period.  The 5-0 lead aside, maybe they could have gotten away from all the fisticuffs and running goalies and actually built on the two goals May scored in the second period (Has May ever scored a natural hat trick as opposed to the Gordie Howe variety?)   How good would it have felt for the entire team and the fans had the Canucks rallied to tie or even win the game?  Good old time hockey, my friends, is what it’s all about.  Unfortunately, it turned into a rivalry gone too far, and somebody got hurt, not the kind of message we want to be sending the kids, our future stars.

So at the end of it all, the final score was Colorado 9 Vancouver 2, but at this point nobody cares with Steve Moore lying comfortably in hospital with a broken neck.  Thankfully, he didn’t sustain any spinal cord or nerve damage and according to initial medical reports should make a full recovery, yet will undoubtedly miss the rest of the season, possibly the last season for awhile.  Sadly, he will also miss out on helping his team win the Stanley Cup.

With the NHL mulling over several options and changes to the rules for the next time we have an NHL season, perhaps they need to seriously consider abolishing the hated instigator rule altogether.  I’m sure over the coming weeks many conversations and debates will be had over this, but one thing’s for sure, if the score can be settled the very same game without fear of backlash from the league and without going over the top and almost killing a guy, I’m all for it.  What do you think?  My e-mail address is: puckin45@puckinaround.net.

Some reaction from around the NHL:

“If I had done something like that, I’d be gone for 10 years” - Edmonton Oilers forward Georges Laraque.

"It has to be in the top five ever." – NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.

"If you want to ban fighting, things will just get more out of control. What happened had nothing to do with fighting. That wasn't fighting. That was a cheap shot." – Calgary Flames forward Krzysztof Oliwa.

"I think ultimately we'll be judged on our response and the message that it sends.  The message that's being sent is this is not a part of our game, it has no place in our game, and it will not be tolerated in our game.  We're hoping there is no criminal action. We believe we are adequately and appropriately policing our own game." – NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

"What he is, is a great hockey player and he's an excellent human being.  And there are some people in this marketplace, because he's not warm and fuzzy with you, you've taken this opportunity to kick the crap out of him and I think it's been just shameful. All you have done is crucify my player" – Vancouver Canucks G.M. Brian Burke

"Todd, you all saw, he's a mess.  And he's so regretful for what he has done, and he knows it was the wrong thing to do.  But he can't change it now” – Vancouver Canucks captain Marcus Naslund.

"It's a strong punishment.  It's a lesson for all of us players that we're responsible for our actions and there's a line we can't cross." – Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"Everybody knows it's an incident that shouldn't happen, but I hope people don't change the way they play.  It should be a hard-fought, fast, physical game. That's what makes it a great game." – Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.

"Right now, everybody hopes that Steve Moore is OK and that he'll play hockey again, but you can't feel sorry for Bertuzzi. What he did is not part of hockey. You don't sucker-punch somebody. That's over the limit." - Florida Panthers centre Olli Jokinen.

"Sometimes you forget the possible severity of the consequences. You can't allow your skilled players to be subjected to a lot of physical abuse without handling it internally, and we all do it. (But) there is no way Todd Bertuzzi was told to go out there and exact that type of retribution." - Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish.

"It's pretty harsh. We know Todd feels bad about it and the league did what they had to do. The most important thing for us is that Steve is doing better, and really that's it." - Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic.

"Unless you've been there, you can't really understand.  It's impossible to explain. I guarantee Todd hasn't slept in two nights. All I kept thinking about was that split-second and how your life can change. I can't describe it." – Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi.

"I think Todd did not want to do what he did, but it happened and hopefully both sides are okay especially the player who got hurt.  It is a game of emotions and you can't predict what is going to happen." – Toronto Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker.

"I've been the victim of hits to the head a lot of times and there wasn't even a one-game suspension. You're out for 10 games and the guy that hit you is still playing and probably doing the same things again. It seems like it's getting worse and worse." – Montreal Canadiens forward Joe Juneau, in support of the NHL’s ruling.

"I obviously feel bad for Moore because he's injured.  I also feel very badly for Todd Bertuzzi because no matter what comes from the league, he's going to have to come back to the game." – Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman.

CROSS CHECKS

One night after the melee in Philadelphia, I caught Ottawa’s return to home ice as they took on the Nashville Predators.  During the pre-game warmup, Patrick Lalime was seen doing stretching exercises by the boards, all the while talking and laughing up a storm with Predators backup Chris Mason.  One guess as to what they were talking about (I assume they were discussing Lalime’s fight with Philly’s goalie Robert Esche).  It would have been nice to have a microphone and a tape recorder.  It was gratifying to see some fan support for the home team for a change, as the team was greeted to a standing ovation, as the theme from “Rocky” played on the loudspeaker.  I would have liked to see Chris Neil go toe to toe with Jordin Tootoo, although I’m pretty sure the entire team had enough from the previous evening. 

Speaking of the previous evening, the rivalry between Philadelphia and Ottawa escalated to an all out bench clearing brawl where an NHL record 419 penalty minutes were issued.  This after a high stick on Mark Recchi by Martin Havlat in their previous meeting resulted in a game misconduct for Havlat, and comments by coach Ken Hitchcock calling for somebody on his team to “feed him his lunch”.  Ironically enough, after what happened to Donald Brashear a few years ago you’d think he’d know better, yet there he was on the Philadelphia bench making the cutthroat sign towards Havlat or anybody on the Senators bench who would pay attention.  You can bet the farm after what’s happened in Vancouver the NHL will be watching the next game between these two very closely, and if they don’t they’d better be prepared for an explanation.  If the NHL knows what’s good for them, they’ll send six veteran referees and have Andy Van Hellemond on hand on April 2nd.  Jacques Martin might be well served to sit some of his star players as well, just in case the Flyers have any ideas.  Why they’d even try anything after the Bertuzzi incident is beyond me, but this is Bob Clarke’s squad we’re talking about here, the same guy who went looking for Martin after the brawl infested game last week and called him, among other things, “a gutless puke”.  Mark it on your calendars folks, it should be a dandy.  The game itself should go a long way to help determine playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. 

I can’t remember a year when so many teams were within striking distance of the best overall record.  If we look at both conferences, as of this writing, 12 out of 16 teams holding down playoff spots have more than 80 points, and all of them have a legitimate shot at finishing in the top three in their respective conferences.  Philadelphia, Ottawa, Toronto and Boston are playing a trading places game.  While all this is happening, it appears as though Tampa Bay could wind up with the Eastern Conference title and possibly the President’s Trophy.  Yes you read that correctly.  As of this writing the Lightning have 93 points and were not only the first team to clinch a playoff spot, but have also clinched the Southeast Division, so they can’t finish worse than 3rd.  Where they’ll go in the playoffs is anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t consider them a first round pushover, that’s for sure!  As for who will emerge with the Eastern Conference title, flip a coin.  The only team I think will have a hard time in the playoffs will be the New York Islanders, provided they even make it.  Buffalo may have a little something to say about that before we’re done.  One thing I do know, a very good team or two will be going out in the first round.

In the Western Conference, we have the usual suspects of Detroit and Colorado leading the pack, with San Jose leading their division holding down 3rd, although the recent injury to Marco Sturm has severely affected the Sharks’ attack.  Dallas got off to a slow start, but could redeem themselves as the division title is still within reach.  After losing 9-2 to Colorado in “the big game”, Vancouver’s chances of a division title are fading again.  The race for the final playoff spots are up in the air.  After the good year Calgary’s had, they could find themselves out if they’re not careful.  Luckily for them, Mikka Kiprussoff is back in goal.  Nashville is pushing for their first ever playoff berth, and Los Angeles, St. Louis and Edmonton will all make it interesting down the stretch. 

We still have about a dozen games to go, so I’ll have more to come on this subject.  It’s getting harder and harder to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, just ask the New Jersey Devils.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I haven’t commented on the trading frenzy which was this year’s incarnation of the trading deadline.  The events from Vancouver have clearly overshadowed the yearly edition of “Let’s Make A Deal”, but my colleague uLAr is all over it in his next column.  You can read the latest “uLAr’s Take” soon.  In the meantime, click the Trades button to see exactly what went down on March 9th, just like more than 200 people did while the major sports pages were swamped with hits.

A huge thanks to all of you who read and trust Puckin’ Around as your source for hockey.  The playoffs are coming fast and furious, so as I always say this time of year, don’t blink, because you’ll surely miss something.  But even if you do, I’ll be on it.

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