SLAP SHOT ON THE WRIST

WHEN TODD BERTUZZI VIOLENTLY ENDED STEVE MOORE’S CAREER, THE NHL FAILED TO DISPENSE ANYTHING RESEMBLING JUSTICE. THE CIVIL SETTLEMENT A DECADE LATER SHOULD REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT FAILURE

So after more than ten years, it looks as though a settlement may have been reached in the infamous Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore civil case (or maybe not, not all sides have confirmed the apparently confidential agreement). Even if you’re not a hockey fan, those names probably sound familiar. In March of 2004, the two made headlines when Bertuzzi, then a Vancouver Canuck, attacked Moore from behind, punching him in the back of the neck and tackling him to the ice. Moore suffered a concussion, three broken vertebrae and facial lacerations, and Bertuzzi’s attack ended his career during his rookie season (he was a member of the rival Colorado Avalanche) and launched a debate about the culture of violence in hockey.

Bertuzzi’s attack was the conclusion of months of acrimony and bitterness over a body check Moore leveled on Markus Naslund (Vancouver’s captain and the League’s leading scorer at the time) in a game the previous February. Opinion was polarized around the cleanliness of Moore’s hit, but while Naslund was sidelined for 3 games as a result, the hit went unpenalized by the referees and was deemed legal upon further review by NHL brass. The Canucks were incensed, screaming to the heavens that it was a cheap shot and the absence of a penalty or suspension was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice the 21st century had ever seen. There was plenty of talk about retribution, and on March 8th, in the dying moments of a game where the Canucks found themselves on the wrong side of a 9-2 score and where Moore had already dropped the gloves with notorious cheap shot artist Matt Cooke, Bertuzzi figured to balance the scales of hockey justice by breaking Moore’s neck and ending his career (and came dangerously close to ending his life-as you can see in the TSN video, the 6’3, 230 pound plus Bertuzzi has his fist primed to rain another angry punch on Moore’s already concussed head until Avs winger Andrei Nikolishin interfered). Bertuzzi was given an indefinite suspension charges laid against him by Vancouver police that June resulted in a single year of probation and eighty hours of community service following a guilty plea of assault with intent to injure. The Canucks organization was fined $250,000 and the IIHF suspended Bertuzzi from playing in Europe or from participating in any international tournaments for a year (though Big Bert wore the Maple Leaf for Canada at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin).

Bertuzzi, who had a long history of violence and was suspended at every level he played at (including a 10 game suspension in 2001), got away with a mere slap on the wrist. Including the Canucks brief appearance in the 2004 playoffs, Bertuzzi’s indefinite suspension amounted to all of 20 games (which didn’t even rank it among the top seven suspensions in NHL history), and while many defend his “punishment” by pointing out he wasn’t reinstated until the opening of the 2005-06 season, Bertuzzi apologists conveniently omit the fact that the entire 2004-05 campaign was wiped out by a lockout, costing all NHLers a season. Steve Moore never stepped skate on NHL ice ever again and never earned another dollar from the game of hockey, while the man who cost him his career has played nine seasons of hockey since that night, making more than 30 million dollars in the process (though it looks as though his career has wound down as the 39 year-old forward remains a free agent that’s currently attracting zero interest from any NHL team). Moore has experienced extensive health problems as a result of Bertuzzi’s attack in the decade since, dramatically complicating his post-NHL life and ability to earn a living. The NHL failed on an epic level.

The ten-year anniversary of the whole debacle as well as the possible settlement between the two camps (seriously, it took ten years to get to court?) has reminded me of how irate the whole thing made me, and if I’d been the NHL’s sheriff at the time, here’s the punishment I would have dealt out.

Todd Bertuzzi would have been gone. Forever. No ifs ands or buts. A lifetime suspension, and not just from playing for any NHL team, but from holding any coaching, managing, training, scouting or other position with any franchise. He wouldn’t even have been allowed to be a stick boy. Next up, Marc Crawford would have been the one gone for the rest of the 2004 season (Bertuzzi had Crawford briefly named as a co-defendant in the civil case, claiming he was contractually obligated to follow his coach’s orders, implying what everyone already suspected, that Crawford ordered the attack) and not just for his role in the attack but also for that little pedophile-like smirk he was wearing when Moore was laying broken and prone on the ice. Crawford, as it turns out, would be fired by the Canucks in April of 2006 and would bounce around, being fired by both Los Angeles and Dallas after failing to guide those teams into the post season (he’s been coaching in Europe since 2012). And as for Mr. “yeah-there’s-a-bounty-on-his-head” Brad May, who spent the rest of his NHL days bouncing from team to team in third and fourth line roles until demand for his limited skills dried up, I’d shelf him for the remainder of the 2004 season as well. The Canucks wouldn’t escape punishment either, as I’d have Vancouver continue to pay Bertuzzi’s nearly seven million dollar a year salary to Steve Moore until the expiration of the contract (I’d spare the Canucks having to include the settlement against their cap following the 2005 lockout, but wouldn’t force the 24% rollback on it either). The cherry on the top would be the NHL’s full co-operation with law enforcement should they choose to pursue charges (which they did, although the sentence was more of a joke then the NHL’s). In exchange Moore would agree not to pursue civil action against the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks or Bertuzzi (after all, he’d already be getting the rest of Big Bert’s cash).

It never would have happened, neither the owners nor the NHLPA would have allowed it (the NHLPA, who stands united when it comes to protecting their pay cheques but consistently rally around the hammer instead of the nail when its members try to kill one another) but it would have at least been some justice. Once in a while, I wish the lady with the scales wasn’t wearing the blindfold.

Shayne Kempton

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