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

ON THE EVE OF THE NHL’S ANNUAL FREE AGENT FRENZY, FORMER STANLEY CUP OPPONENTS ROBERTO LUONGO AND TIM THOMAS FIND THEMSELVES BACK IN THE NEWS FOR VERY DIFFERENT REASONS

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo du...

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo during training camp in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At exactly noon today, thirty NHL General Managers will begin scrambling to sign as many free agents as their budgets will allow.  It will make Christmas Eve in a Toys R Us pale by comparison.  But before the onslaught of deals and ridiculous free agent signings gets under way, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a pair of goalies who’ve made news lately.  Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas, whose goaltending duel went the full seven game distance in 2011’s Stanley Cup final, have attracted their fair share of headlines the past few days;  Luongo for what hasn’t happened (a much needed change of address) and Thomas for what might happen (the 39 year old is interested in returning to the NHL after sitting out last season for personal reasons).  Two very different goalies with very different stories back in the news for very different reasons.

Ever since the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, an epic soap opera has been playing itself out in Vancouver as young goalie Cory Schneider seemed ready to assume the role as the Canucks top goalie, shoving long time starter Roberto Luongo aside.  But the Canucks invested heavily in Luongo, signing him to a lucrative, twelve year deal that’s proven extremely difficult to move in a salary cap NHL.  Yet, with few exceptions he’s been gracious and witty ever since the whole circus about his anticipated move from Vancouver started, garnering one of hockey’s largest Twitter followings in the process.  Now, it seems, with the Canucks trading Schneider to the New Jersey Devils in last Sunday’s entry draft, Luongo is Vancouver’s number one net minder once more, whether he likes it or not.

While he has yet to win it, Luongo has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie four times.  He finished runner up for the Hart Trophy in 2007 as the NHL’s MVP and backstopped Team Canada to Olympic gold in his own backyard during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  He’s won 233 regular season games so far in a Canucks jersey and has collected 348 victories over the entirety of his career.  At the age of 34, he’s assembled one of the most impressive resumes among active NHL goalies, but he just can’t seem to find any respect.  Many Canuck fans (and indeed the franchise itself) unfairly threw him under the bus for the Canucks Stanley Cup loss to the Bruins in 2011, and many more hockey fans won’t even cut him a break for his gold medal winning performance in 2010, telling anyone who’ll listen that he was a benefactor of playing on a stacked team.  In point of fact, many of Roberto’s online haters have taken to social media, boasting that they can’t wait until he allows first soft goal next October, their mockery machines already tuned up and primed.

Anyone who watched 2011’s Vancouver-Boston final knows that the Canucks lost to a Bruins team that was tailor made for the trench warfare of the playoffs and could tell you there was plenty of blame for the Canucks loss to go around.  Vancouver’s big guns fell silent and what little firepower they mustered was easily dismissed by Boston’s Tim Thomas, an eventual Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner that season. In fact, if it wasn’t for Vancouver’s goaltending, they could have been tossed aside by the Bruins in only five or six games.  Has Luongo given up some soft goals over his career?  Sure, but so has Corey Crawford, Chicago’s goalie who just picked up his second Stanley Cup ring a few weeks ago and whose played himself into the conversation to man Canada’s net at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Speaking of the Olympics, while Canada’s hockey entry at any Olympics is always going to be stacked, you need capable goaltending to compliment all the other talent.  A stacked team in front of you doesn’t guarantee Olympic success; you could have asked Patrick Roy that in 1998 or Martin Brodeur in 2006, years when Canada’s stacked Olympic squads didn’t even medal, let alone take home the gold.  Dismissing Luongo’s Olympic success in 2010 is nothing more than a fool’s move.

When Vancouver GM Mike Gillis made last Sunday’s trade, he confessed he hadn’t spoken to Luongo, who had all but been promised a new team next season.  Gillis said he planned on reaching out to Roberto, indicating that he’s aware that bridge is pretty shaky, if not burnt entirely (TSN later reported that a shocked and disappointed Luongo was declining interview requests).  But Vancouver’s GM may want to avoid speaking publicly about this mess because one hundred percent of it is his fault.  He was the one who offered Luongo the contract that has been an albatross around both their necks, he sabotaged a number of potential deals with various trading partners over the past two seasons by hiking his asking price and he couldn’t convince Canucks ownership to use a compliance buyout to sever Luongo’s deal after telling the media that Bobby Lou probably wasn’t returning next October (which must have been music to Luongo’s ears). One image sums up how the relationship between the star goalie and Vancouver had deteriorated better than anything else.  Vancouver’s final regular season game last season was a road game against the Edmonton Oilers.  Luongo was started to rest Schneider, signaling to the entire NHL that Vancouver now considered Schneider their playoff goalie.  The Canucks rested a lot of their top players that game and their squad resembled an AHL team more than their regular lineup.  Edmonton, on the wrong side of yet another losing season, lit the Canucks up and head coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t even look at his former starter, let alone pull him and save him additional embarrassment.  Luongo was the first Canuck off the ice and was showered, changed and headed to the Canucks bus, alone, in just twelve minutes. Now the Canucks want to kiss and make up.  Kind of makes you think Luongo just might skip training camp . . .

And speaking of skipping training camp, remember Mr. Thomas?  It might be tough because he’s been off the radar over the course of his year long vacation to focus on his three Fs; family, friends and faith.  Tim Thomas was an outstanding goalie who earned every accolade and award he received.  A virtual unknown before 2005, the story goes that then Boston Bruin Joe Thornton convinced Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to take a look at a goalie (Thomas) he played with in Finland during the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.  Chiarelli liked what he saw and brought Thomas over, whose unorthodox but stellar play quickly earned him the Bruins number one job.  Thomas won the Vezina for the NHL’s best goaltender in 2009 and again in 2011, the same year he also won the Conn Smythe for backstopping the Bruins to the Stanley Cup.  He won silver in the 2010 Olympics with team U.S.A. and he hopes to be considered for America’s entry in the upcoming 2014 Olympic games as well.  His resume speaks volumes.  So does the fact he turned his back on his team its fans.

Goalie Tim Thomas, NHL Hockey player for the B...

Goalie Tim Thomas, NHL Hockey player for the Boston Bruins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Thomas informed Bruins management last year that he planned on sitting out the 2012-13 season, he wasn’t merely violating his contract, but he was turning his back on the Bruins organization who had rescued him from obscurity in Finland and the fans who embraced him.   His decision was particularly difficult for the Bruins, who, despite suspending him so they wouldn’t have to pay him while he sat out, were forced to absorb his contract’s value against their salary cap. If they hadn’t been able to pawn it off on an Islanders team desperate to reach the NHL’s salary floor, the Bruins would have essentially been up the salary cap creek this past season.  Thomas also generated some controversy when he passed on Boston’s visit to the White House to celebrate its Stanley Cup victory and again when he posted conservative political statements on his personal Facebook page.  While I didn’t agree with those decisions (or statements), I defended them as free speech (which doesn’t only count when you like what the person says), but his decision to abandon the Bruins was stabbing the organization that made him a Stanley Cup winner and millionaire in the back.  What he did wasn’t all that different from what Alexei Yashin made a habit of doing to the Ottawa Senators in the 90’s, sitting out a contractually obligated year because he wanted more money (Thomas didn’t want a raise, just a paid vacation).  At the very least, he owed an explanation to his teammates, his organization and his fans, who paid his enormous salary by buying obscenely expensive tickets and over priced merchandise.  If it had been a sick relative or other family emergency, Boston is a classy town and a classy organization, they would have thanked him and given him his privacy, but Bruins fans deserved something one way or another.  The bottom line is his decision was selfish and disrespectful.

So now you have a pair of goalies in painfully opposite situations.  Roberto Luongo, whose team turned its back on him but wants him back, and Tim Thomas, who turned his back on his team and its fans and wants to come back.  This should be interesting.

Shayne Kempton

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