The NHL's back, but Bertuzzi shouldn't be

Monday, August 22, 2005

1 Comment
  • Bertuzzi at a press conference, post-hit (file)

    Bertuzzi at a press conference, post-hit (file)

I’d have a lot more faith in NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman if I was convinced that he’d ever watched a hockey game before he was named to the job. As it stands, he’s proven to be spectacularly incapable of understanding what’s good for the game, beyond what the lawyers and accountants at the league office tell him (which, for the most part, is exactly the wrong advice). Such is the case with his decision to prematurely end the suspension of Vancouver Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi, at a time when the league needs to reestablish itself as something other than an extreme sport.

For the record, before his infamous assault on Steve Moore, I had always been an admirer of Todd Bertuzzi. I liked that he possessed the rare ability to mix a physical (but usually clean) style of hockey with a scoring touch and, frankly, I thought he often got a raw deal from on-ice officials simply because of his reputation. But, that respect immediately evapourated on March 8, 2004 when Bertuzzi blindsided Moore with a series of sucker punches, then drove his head into the ice. The impact was enough to break Moore’s neck and cause a severe concussion. It appeared from replays that, if he hadn’t been stopped, Bertuzzi had been fully prepared to punch an unconscious Moore again.

The assault was one of the ugliest incidents in the history of a game that has had its share of ugly incidents. But, almost as ugly as the incident itself is the way in which it has been handled by the league. Let’s recap, shall we. After Canucks star Markus Naslund was injured by a clean hit thrown by Moore (then with the Colorado Avalanche), several members of Naslund’s team explicitly stated their intention to get revenge on Moore the next time that the two teams played.

The first error by the league was to not step in then – not against Moore, but against the Canucks organization. The people uttering the threats, including both forward Brad May (who said there was “a bounty” on Moore’s head) and coach Marc Crawford, should have been fined and suspended. And, more importantly, the Canucks should have been warned in advance of the game that any acts of vengeance would be severely punished. Instead, Bettman allowed the hysteria to build up to the point where virtually everyone who followed hockey knew that Moore was going to be hurt in some manner during the March 8 game.

Even though Moore was not a fighter, he didn't back down when Canucks player Matt Cooke challenged him to a fight early in the game. But, Moore won the fight, so the bounty on his head remained until he was knocked unconscious by Bertuzzi's assault. Bertuzzi was, appropriately, suspended indefinitely, but Crawford and the Canucks as a team were left untouched by the league. “Indefinitely” translated into 13 regular season games and seven playoff games (since no one played NHL hockey in the 2004-2005 season, due to the lockout — another of Bettman's brilliant ideas).

Bertuzzi did utter an apology of sorts. But, he didn’t apologize to Moore, but to fans. And, he took no responsibility for his actions, referring only to “what happened out there”. As far as the rest of the hockey establishment goes, they did just as badly in their treatment of Moore, then a first year NHLer and now an unrestricted free agent that no one is making an effort to sign (although, the Leafs may want to add his name to their list of “free agents with a history of concussions” that they’ve signed). Even if he’s able to play again (which is still in doubt), it seems that he’s been ostracized by the league and even by his former teammates. Indeed, not only did the Avalanche decline to resign Moore, but they paid him a further insult by signing May.

Moore has launched a lawsuit against Bertuzzi, May, Crawford, former Canucks General Manager Brian Burke and the Canucks owners. For this, he has been roundly vilified. The professional hockey player’s code of honour (the same one that said it was okay for the Canucks to go after Moore, it not in the extreme manner chosen by Bertuzzi) says that you’re supposed to “leave it on the ice”. Unfortunately, all that Moore was able to leave on the ice was a lot of his blood. He could have lost his life. It’s not as if he can wait until the next time he plays Vancouver to take a swing at Bertuzzi (since he likely won’t be playing and, even if he was, Bertuzzi has been ordered to sit out any game involving Moore). Under the circumstances, a lawsuit seems like a reasonable course of action for Moore.

Naslund himself – who could have called off the ridiculous vendetta in the first place by admitting that Moore’s hit on him had been clean and telling his teammates to grow up – added insult to serious injury when commenting on the lawsuit. Calling Moore “someone who wasn't good enough to play”, Naslund indicated that he had “no respect for him at all.” And, therein lies the problem.


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  1. Posted by: Kyle Lambert on Aug 26, 2005 @ 9:23am

    The respect thing is a problem in all sports I would argue. However, it does work (or fail) both ways in the Moore-Bertuzzi case.

    Did Steve Moore respect Naslund upon injuring him with a cheap-shot hit in an earlier game? While it is true that the Canucks, and subsequently the Avs by signing Brad May, showed little or no respect for Moore, I would argue that Moore failed to also provide that same respect.

    What the league now needs is to move on, but with the Bertuzzi incident kept in mind. Any such attack should be treated with an even higher level of severity by the NHL. However, the league must also crack down on the lower-level "cheap shots" that happen a dozen or so times per game. Until that sort of play is at least partially removed from the game, attacks such as that by Todd Bertuzzi will continue to occur.

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