Monday, August 8, 2005
Partial text of Gary Bettman's ruling
ESPN.com news services
Below is the partial text of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's ruling on Todd Bertuzzi's reinstatement:
As an initial matter, I should note there is a broad spectrum within which I can render an opinion on the appropriate length of Mr. Bertuzzi's suspension. I certainly am aware that no matter what and when I decide, there probably will be critics and supporters. However, my decision is made strictly on the basis of what I believe is the right result for the game of hockey and Mr. Bertuzzi, taking into due consideration the impact of these events on Mr. Moore.
For the reasons set forth below, it is my belief that Mr. Bertuzzi has paid a very significant price for his conduct on March 8, 2004, and that he should be reinstated immediately so that he is eligible to play as of the commencement of the 2005/06 NHL season. In reaching this determination, I note the following material considerations to which I have paid particular attention:
• Mr. Bertuzzi's actions were deserving of an appropriately harsh sanction. From an NHL standpoint, there is no question that Mr. Bertuzzi's actions clearly went well beyond what could ever be considered acceptable behavior in the National Hockey League. Mr. Bertuzzi must be held responsible for the results of his actions, and the message must be delivered loudly and forcefully that the game will not tolerate this type of conduct. I believe that the League's response at the time of the incident and subsequently is consistent with that responsibility and delivers that message.
• I find that the appropriate discipline to be imposed for Mr. Bertuzzi's conduct on March 8, 2004 is the suspension that has been served to date by Mr. Bertuzzi (i.e., a supplemental discipline suspension of almost seventeen (17) months, the longest in NHL history).
I anticipate that there will be those who will say that Mr. Bertuzzi's 17-month suspension is inadequate, and not proportionate to suspensions imposed on other Players for conduct that may be considered "less severe" than Mr. Bertuzzi's actions because of the work stoppage that wiped out the entire 2004/05 NHL season. I disagree. In light of the unusual circumstances surrounding the 2004/05 season, it is appropriate to consider not only the significant impact the suspension has had on Mr. Bertuzzi's NHL career, but also the impact that the League's suspension has had on Mr. Bertuzzi's ability to play professional hockey anywhere during this time, as well as the financial, criminal, civil and emotional consequences he has endured as a result of his conduct on March 8, 2004, as follows:
• As a result of his suspension, Mr. Bertuzzi missed thirteen (13) NHL regular-season games and seven (7) NHL playoff games during the 2003/04 season, resulting in his forfeiture of $501,926.39 in salary.
• Both the Vancouver organization and Mr. Bertuzzi believe that Mr. Bertuzzi's suspension may very well have cost the team competitively, resulting in a less favorable 2004 playoff experience than the Club otherwise may have achieved had Mr. Bertuzzi been on the roster and playing.
• As a result of his suspended status, Mr. Bertuzzi also was deemed ineligible to play hockey outside of the NHL during the period of his suspension. The practical consequences of this were that Mr. Bertuzzi could not join the numerous other NHL players who were able to participate in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and in the 2004 and 2005 IIHF World Hockey Championships. In addition, because he was barred by the International Ice Hockey Federation from playing professional hockey in Europe during the period of his suspension, Mr. Bertuzzi was ruled ineligible to play for any European professional team during the term of the NHL work stoppage, thereby distinguishing Mr. Bertuzzi from almost 400 of his fellow NHL players who played and earned salaries in Europe. Therefore, although he sought employment in Europe, Mr. Bertuzzi's NHL suspension effectively precluded him from earning a livelihood playing hockey for the entire seventeen (17) months of his suspension.
• Mr. Bertuzzi testified that following his actions on March 8, 2004 and his suspension by the NHL, he experienced lost or cancelled endorsement opportunities estimated in the approximate amount of $350,000.
• While the criminal charges against Mr. Bertuzzi can be conditionally discharged if he satisfies the requisite terms, Mr. Bertuzzi will always have the stigma of having pled guilty to a criminal offense related to his actions on March 8, 2004.
• Mr. Bertuzzi is a defendant in a civil action filed by Mr. Moore, for which he is incurring substantial attorneys' fees in connection with his defense of such suit, and if he is found liable, may owe damages as well.
• After listening to Mr. Bertuzzi and his wife Julie Bertuzzi, I have no doubt that this period of indefinite suspension has been marked by uncertainty, anxiety, stress and emotional pain for the Bertuzzi family. Other NHL players who were faced with the uncertainty caused by the seemingly indefinite nature of the work stoppage at least were able to take solace in the fact that during the period of the work stoppage they could seek employment outside of the NHL playing professional hockey, and that upon resumption of NHL play, they could immediately resume their NHL careers. Mr. Bertuzzi was not in such a position. Instead, throughout the period of Mr. Bertuzzi's seventeen (17) month suspension, the Bertuzzi family experienced constant and significant uncertainty, stress and anxiety flowing from not knowing when Mr. Bertuzzi's status would change, or if Mr. Bertuzzi would ever have the opportunity to play professional hockey again, even if a new collective bargaining agreement was negotiated.
• This is the first time in Mr. Bertuzzi's career that he has been disciplined under the League's supplementary discipline procedures.
• I believe that Mr. Bertuzzi is genuinely remorseful and apologetic for his actions on March 8, 2004, and the consequences that have flowed from such actions.
While I believe that Mr. Bertuzzi must be held accountable for his actions, I do not feel it is necessary or appropriate to delay the issuance of this opinion. At the time the League made the initial decision regarding the imposition of supplementary discipline on Mr. Bertuzzi, Mr. Moore's injuries had been diagnosed and determined to be serious, and likely to result in his inability to play hockey for a prolonged period of time. In addition, Mr. Moore testified at the April 26 hearing that he was in rehabilitation and working to progress to higher levels of conditioning, and may have the ability to make further, and more expedient, progress with the active input and oversight of his physicians, including the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic whom he
anticipated seeing within the eight (8) weeks following the hearing. On the basis of the testimony provided at the hearing, I believe that it is fair to assume that, while perhaps not complete, Mr. Moore's recovery continues to progress.
While obviously an important and relevant factor in determining an appropriate length of suspension, Mr. Moore's physical condition and the current status of his NHL career are not, and shall not be, determinative. Even Mr. Moore acknowledged as much at our hearing in April, where he stated only that my decision at that time regarding reinstatement might be premature, given the ongoing work stoppage and the lack of complete information. Three (3) months have since passed, and I do not feel a decision at this time is premature.
For these reasons, I believe it is appropriate to render my decision regarding the length of Mr. Bertuzzi's suspension.
Mr. Moore's counsel suggested that the NHL's resolution of this matter could be a defining moment for the NHL, which will be judged on how the matter is handled. I agree. Conduct such as Mr. Bertuzzi's simply has no place in the game of hockey. While the majority of Mr. Bertuzzi's suspension was served in the unusual context of an NHL work stoppage and the absence of NHL play, the impact of Mr. Bertuzzi's NHL suspension precluded his participation in professional hockey for almost seventeen (17) months, and resulted in numerous other consequences -- civil, criminal, financial and emotional -- as detailed above.
While all NHL players were precluded from playing "NHL hockey" during the term of the NHL lockout, I am comfortable and confident that Mr. Bertuzzi suffered an even more significant impact financially and emotionally during the full term of his suspension, rendering his suspension to be an effective punishment. The seventeen (17) month suspension in this context appropriately recognizes the impact of Mr. Bertuzzi's conduct on Mr. Moore, and should send a clear and strong message that conduct of this type will never be tolerated in the National Hockey League. While some might think there needed to be a harsher punishment, I am satisfied with this result, as fair and appropriate. There is no one who can suggest that this matter has not already been dealt with in a severe and harsh manner.
While I believe it is time to move forward, I want to make clear to Mr. Bertuzzi what will be expected of him when he resumes his playing career this season: (1) As set forth in the terms of his criminal probation, Mr. Bertuzzi will not be permitted to play in any NHL game in which Mr. Moore is a player on the opposite team; and (2) Mr. Bertuzzi will be considered to be on "probation" for the 2005/06 NHL season. While I believe that reinstatement of Mr. Bertuzzi at this point in time is appropriate and consistent with a "fresh start" for the 2005/06 season, I want to make it clear that any future acts by Mr. Bertuzzi involving a review for possible supplemental discipline will require an in-person hearing and, if discipline is to be imposed, Mr. Bertuzzi should understand that it will be more severe than might otherwise be the case for similar acts committed by other NHL players. In short, Mr. Bertuzzi is on notice that he will be held strictly accountable to a higher standard than other NHL players for his on-ice conduct during the 2005/06 season.
Accordingly, I have determined as follows:
A total suspension of approximately seventeen (17) calendar months from the date of the incident is the appropriate sanction to impose in this case given the nature and severity of the act in question and the overall totality of circumstances. Subject to the continuing terms of the conditional discharge in Mr. Bertuzzi's criminal case and the "probationary period" which this decision imposes, Mr. Bertuzzi is immediately eligible for reinstatement for play in the NHL.