Monday, August 8, 2005 Updated: August 18, 1:34 PM ET
Will Bertuzzi punishment have desired effect?
By Terry Frei Special to ESPN.com
DENVER -- That dateline is both a location, and an admission of perspective.
It comes with the acknowledgement that if the skates were on the other feet and the roles reversed 180 degrees, the cry in Colorado tonight would be:
"Justice has been served! [Injured Canuck] had it coming! [Suspended Avalanche] was punished enough! Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, [reinstated Avalanche] is free is last!"
Todd Bertuzzi still faces a civil suit filed by Steve Moore.
In fact, the higher the decibel level of those decrying Vancouver winger Todd Bertuzzi's reinstatement, the more likely they would be to want to minimize an Avalanche skater's correspondingly heinous act. (Yes, some of the same fans screaming in my neighborhood Monday night were saying Claude Lemieux's hit on Kris Draper in 1996 was a geometric fluke, and why should ol' Claude apologize for that?)
Yes, I daresay that many of the same folks in Vancouver who believe Bertuzzi might have gone a bit too far but his heart was in the right place as an avenger in the traditions of, ahem, The Code, would have wanted to lynch a Colorado player in an opposite scenario.
If Adam Deadmarsh, the power forward with a hair-trigger temper and willingness to mix it up, for example, had lost it in an avenging rage, sucker-punched a Canuck and left the Vancouver opponent with career-threatening injuries during Deadmarsh's time with Colorado, his British Columbia roots might not have been enough to keep him off the public enemy's list in Vancouver.
So can we concede those points and get to the major issue: Will the Bertuzzi suspension and, just as significantly the $250,000 fine meted out to the Canucks organization, serve as a deterrent to this kind of garbage happening again?
Can we ignore the foamy-mouthed morons who attempt to drown out any civil and intelligent discussions of hockey incidents with their chauvinistic drivel, which often cites The Code as some sort of be-all, end-all, but which in reality is the intellectual equivalent of responding in an argument with an upraised middle finger or a mooning?
Hockey fans as a rule are much smarter than those who have polluted the Bertuzzi-Steve Moore discussion with the nonsense about Moore having it coming, or "Bert Rules!" or anything along those lines. It's just that we don't often tell the brain-dead proponents of that kind of thinking to shut up.
Well, I'll try it once: Shut up!
The issue of how much longer Bertuzzi should have been forced to sit out is, to me, a secondary issue. Yes, if I were in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's shoes, I probably would have extended the suspension at least 20 games into the 2005-06 season, and perhaps as many as 40. If nothing else, that would have been a statement of what the New NHL can stand for -- and what it won't stand for. But I also previously have expressed my ambivalence in all of this, because at the very least, Todd Bertuzzi did lose 17 months of a hockey career, if you count the loss of an opportunity to play in Europe while suspended. It's not his fault that there was an NHL lockout. If Bettman originally was thinking at least a calendar year, which is what I advocated, the lockout complicated matters, and Bettman's decision at least is intellectually justifiable in that sense.
Bertuzzi's act was among the most despicable ever seen during a North American pro game, and the attempts to wave it off as anything but that are laughable in their disingenuousness. This is the part I've never understood: To cite a gutless sucker-punch from behind as some sort of an outgrowth of The Code, albeit a bit misguided and excessive, is an insult to anyone who lived and played by it. The funny thing was, Bettman's almost tortuous detailing of his reasons for reinstating Bertuzzi on Monday seemed to illustrate he expected heat -- and that media reaction from outside those who know much about hockey will be a setback to the New NHL's quest to gain inroads in the mainstream.
But 20 more games?
What's the difference?
Really, what's the difference? Not much. Why waste passion and argument and risk hoarsened voices over 20 or 40 games?
Steve Moore is struggling, yet making slow progress in his rehabilitation. He is awaiting results of tests run during his two recent visits to a Cleveland clinic. He hopes to get back into the NHL. He is waiting to see if his civil suit against the Canucks, Bertuzzi, former general manager Brian Burke, coach Marc Crawford and (oh, the irony) current Avalanche winger Brad May, will go to trial in Colorado, or be tossed out for jurisdictional reasons and likely filed in Canada. Moore didn't deserve what happened to him, and even Canucks fans should be rooting for him.
So the issue becomes: Will the NHL learn anything from this? The most underplayed aspect in all of this was the league fining the Canucks, serving notice that it is the organization's -- from the GM on down -- responsibility to head off this kind of stupidity. You don't encourage it with either implied support or overt directives. If you do, you'll pay.
And the game just won't stand for it.
That's what I hope comes out of this, other than Steve Moore's return to health and to the NHL.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."