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Wednesday, January 13, 2010
A little perspective on the Burrows-Auger 'controversy'

By Scott Burnside

Reality check on Aisle 11, please.

Don't get us wrong. We love a good hyperbolic rant as much as the next person. Heck, we've engaged in our own frothing-at-the-mouth rants in the past -- mostly when it comes to how the National Hockey League metes out discipline, or doesn't, as is usually the case. And, hockey gods willing, we likely will engage in similar rants in the future.

But during the past 48 hours, we have watched with some mild amusement and more than a little consternation as l'affaire Burrows et Auger has gone from fallout from a poorly officiated game to Watergate on Ice or the hockey version of the Black Sox scandal.

OK, everyone, back off from the ledge. That means all of you Vancouver Canucks fans who believe poor Alexandre Burrows has been wronged, first by referee Stephane Auger and then by the league. The forward was fined $2,500 for complaining after Monday's game that Auger had threatened during pregame warm-ups to pay Burrows back for making the referee look bad during an earlier game and following through with a series of ill-deserved calls that led to a 3-2 loss to Nashville.

After a quick investigation headed by lead disciplinarian Colin Campbell, the NHL decided Wednesday there wasn't enough evidence to support Burrows' statements and fined him for criticizing an official. Auger apparently was not disciplined. But just like the core issue at play here, there are different ways to make your point, and it's entirely likely the NHL will display its displeasure at the unwanted publicity by denying Auger any postseason work this season.

Failing any verifiable third-party account of the alleged little chat Auger had with Burrows before Monday's game, Campbell was forced to assess each man's account of the event before coming up with his conclusions.

Had Sidney Crosby or Nicklas Lidstrom made the allegations, we would be a whole lot more skeptical of Auger's part in this. But it was Burrows who famously let the vendetta genie out of the bottle, and he has never been shy to trash-talk, dive, whine, complain and generally make a nuisance of himself, mostly to opposing players and officials but occasionally, no doubt, to his teammates. Is it possible Burrows, embarrassed at his role in his team's defeat, embellished whatever was said before the game? It wouldn't be the first time Burrows had embellished, no?

In short, consider the source.

But rather than considering the source and trying to put the incident in some sort of perspective, some have drawn a straight line from this hockey incident to Tim Donaghy, the NBA referee who disgraced himself and his profession by betting on NBA games and went to prison as a result of his engaging in criminal activity. Sorry, we don't see the connection.

Over the course of the 70 or so games that each NHL referee and linesman works every season, we can only imagine the interplay that goes on between them and the coaches and players. We know and understand the things NHL referees put up with -- the comments, the taunts, the patience they must show -- all in the name of being, and appearing to be, impartial.

If Auger let down the side in some way, well, shame on him. The NHL clearly didn't think so, and this is a league that hasn't been shy to discipline officials for making on-ice mistakes.

By trying to suggest this flash point speaks to a larger issue of credibility does a great disservice to the men in stripes who keep the games in check and do so unfailingly for the most part. Perhaps this will reinforce to on-ice officials that so much is riding on not only how they call a game but also how they appear to be calling a game.

That's not a bad thing.

But it's also wrong to suggest this is a body blow to the NHL, that this somehow mitigates the good work by officials every night.

The Phoenix Coyotes being dragged into bankruptcy and nearly dragged off to Hamilton, Ontario, in the middle of the night? That was a body blow.

The lockout? That was a body blow.

This is a blip on the radar.