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Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Burrows, Auger no strangers to controversy


Cue the "Law and Order" music. Burrows versus Auger.

Now get ready for the verdict: a $2,500 fine (aka a slap on the wrist) for Canucks winger Alexandre Burrows, and no discipline for referee Stephane Auger.

But let's all be cognizant of one thing here: Neither Burrows nor Auger arrived at this controversy devoid of past issues.

Let's start with the player, one I would love to have on my team. Passionate, hard-working, a pain in the butt to play against, soft hands -- Burrows is a terrific player. But he is also a mouthy individual with a track record (one that includes a reputation as a diver on the ice).

I came across this news release from the ECHL from Nov. 3, 2003:

Already having a history with on-ice officials is not a good thing when you're giving NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell your side of the story Tuesday night. And believe me, the league was well aware of the ECHL incident.

Mind you, when I called the ECHL on Wednesday, no one there had any recollection of exactly what Burrows had done in that Oct. 24 game. I even tracked down his coach at the time, Scott White, and he was puzzled when I asked him about it.

"Pierre, I really do not remember," White, now the GM of the AHL's Texas Stars, wrote in an e-mail. "Do you have any other details that might allow me to recall the incident?"

All I had was the November 2003 news release, which I sent him.

"Sorry, Pierre, I just do not recall it," White wrote back.

All he remembers was coaching a young Burrows in the ECHL.

"Yes ... Alex was excellent, hard to play against," White wrote.

If the 2003 incident was that bad, I have to think White would have remembered since he was behind the bench. Something obviously happened, but it wasn't anything outrageous. Still, it's on Burrows' record.

Burrows, meanwhile, hopefully will learn from all this. This has become a distraction for his team over the past two days. He may have heard some things from Auger that he didn't like, but sharing it with the media and making it a public spectacle didn't do anything to help his cause, or his team.

Next time, shut your yap, talk to your coach and GM about it after the game, and let things unfold the proper way. Why? Because now, every NHL referee, even if they think Auger himself was out of line in this incident, will still view Burrows as a snitch. If you're in the Canucks' organization, the universal concern is you'll never catch a break from the men in stripes again this season.

And what about Mr. Auger? One source told us Tuesday he was extremely upset and emotional about how this controversy exploded.

I'd feel bad for him, but he screwed up, too. He made a major mistake by approaching the player like he did before the game. Even if it was just to say, "Hey, you made me look bad in Nashville by diving like that, don't do that again, etc.," that's a message the referee should share with the head coach in the morning, not the player directly.

Auger may not have said all of the things Burrows claims, but he put himself in a position, optics-wise, that made him look bad; not to mention the borderline calls on the players late in the game -- brutal calls, quite frankly.

What didn't help Auger in this affair was his past involvement in a huge controversy involving Shane Doan. During a December 2005 game between the Coyotes and Canadiens in Montreal, Auger handed Doan a 10-minute misconduct penalty after concluding the Phoenix forward had verbally abused an official and made culturally insensitive comments against the referees. Both referees and both linesmen for the game were French-Canadians.

The league conducted an investigation and found the allegations against Doan to be baseless. As a French-Canadian, I'm particularly sensitive to this stuff, but I can tell you, from the conversations I had with Doan, both at the time and since then, I believe the Coyotes captain when he says he did not make ethnic slurs.

The bottom line is, Auger had to be 100 percent sure before going after Doan like that, and I don't think he knew for sure what Doan had said in the heat of the moment. The incident itself has nothing to do with the Burrows affair, but unfortunately for Auger, the optics paint a picture of a referee who has now twice been involved in a confrontation with a player.

Auger escaped punishment from the league, but it'll be interesting to see what happens when the NHL doles out playoff assignments for on-ice officials and whether Auger is shut out from such an assignment.

In the end, both Auger and Burrows should have acted differently in this episode. Hopefully they realize that.