Canucks fined for opening their mouths

Updated: March 12, 2004, 5:41 PM ET
By Jim Kelley |

It went relatively unnoticed, at least on the U.S. side of the border, but the $250,000 fine the National Hockey League laid on the Vancouver Canucks team and management as a part of the Todd Bertuzzi fallout won't be overlooked at the club level.

While the NHL conveniently overlooked its own inaction and ineptitude to defuse the circumstances leading up to Bertuzzi's assault on Steve Moore, the league also sent a shot across the bow of various members of the Fraternal Order of Barking Big Mouths to shut the heck up.

"That gutless puke (Ottawa coach Jacques) Martin doing that (deleted). But when you pull that (deleted) off it comes back to get you. They have to come in here one more time (April 2). They won't be able to hide (Daniel) Alfredsson and (Marian) Hossa and all those guys then."
-- Flyers general manager Bob Clarke, after the 419-penalty minute game with the Ottawa Senators.
No WC for Bertuzzi?
Another item on the list of unclear messages is Bertuzzi's availability for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

If he's suspended, the International Ice Hockey Federation would recognize the suspension and strike him from the Team Canada roster. Given the league's comments about Bertuzzi having to visit with Bettman to apply for reinstatement before next season's training camps open, one would assume he's out.

Problem is, no one is saying that for the record, and you get the sense that there was a carefully crafted window whereby the league can take the temperature regarding Bertuzzi sometime over the summer and then schedule a hearing anytime after the playoffs end or well past the start of the tournament that gets under way in August.

If it's before, he's in. If it's after, the commish can keep him out. That's the nice part of being commissioner; you can do those sorts of things and make situational decisions.

Bright future in Phoenix
Through Thursday, the Phoenix Coyotes were 0-5-1-2 since they fired Bob Francis and replaced him with interim coach Rick Bowness. Bowness is a career coach and deserves a better fate, but when you take over a team that has traded eight rostered players since Feb. 9, and gets mainly draft picks, prospects and Derek Morris in return, it's difficult to even know who you are coaching, let alone getting them focused enough to win.

Difficult as it appears, there may well be a future for the Coyotes, and not just as dogs in the desert. GM Mike Barnett made moves for young talent and, over time, it should prove to be a nice collection. Keep an eye out for defenseman Keith Ballard of the University of Minnesota. He may well opt to turn pro once the NHL settles its labor issues, and the consensus is that he will be a good one.

Taking a look at Luc
We tip our proverbial hat to Los Angeles Kings forward Luc Robitaille. Pretty much considered finished after he was cut loose by Detroit, Lucky Luc recently scored the 651st goal of his lengthy career. He also hit the 20 (or more) goal mark for the 16th time in 18 seasons and is only the sixth active player to have 16 or more 20-goal seasons.

But like they say in those $19.99 commercials, wait, there's more. Heading into the weekend, Robitaille was just six points away from becoming the highest scoring left wing in NHL history. Legendary Boston Bruin John Bucyk holds the mark with 1,369 points. Robitaille is at 1,364. On Saturday he will play his 1,000th NHL game as a King, and he needs only 11 more goals to break Marcel Dionne's club record of 550 goals, a mark once thought to be unreachable. Robitaille also played for the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh.

FYI: Kings coach Andy Murray set the club record for games coached when he passed Bob Pulford. Murray has coached 398 games and has 177 wins, two fewer than Pulford.

Wild about ties
It's a longshot, but the Minnesota Wild has a chance to record more ties than wins (and even losses) this season. Heading into the weekend, the Wild were 22-26-20-2, and they pretty much dumped all their veteran players at the trade deadline.

While on the subject, the Edmonton Oilers have now been in six straight overtime games, something being investigated as an NHL record.

For the record, those reports of Tony Granato being fired in Colorado and replaced by Joel Quenneville were every bit as wrong as the ones that had Chris Pronger being traded from St. Louis to various cities.

There's a remarkable amount of misinformation being circulated by hockey media on any day of the week, but it reaches epic proportions in the days leading up to the trade deadline.

Or be prepared to suffer some consequences.

The consequences have been somewhere between small and non-existent to date, but in imposing the fine, even a relatively minor one such as this, the league has served notice that the Canucks -- and especially coach Marc Crawford and forward Brad May -- had a hand in orchestrating the mayhem.

"In light of numerous player comments about Mr. Moore following the Vancouver-Colorado game of Feb. 15, we believe the Vancouver organization ultimately bears some responsibility for monitoring and, to the extent necessary, attempting to moderate the focus of its team. ... We believe more could have been done and should have been done," read a statement from NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell.

"We feel they could have done more in this situation to control their players. We don't feel they took the temperature down," Campbell said later in a media conference call.

No duh, Dick Tracy.

Not only did the Canucks inflame the situation through Crawford's incessant rants in the media after Moore's initial (and unpenalized) hit on Canucks captain Markus Naslund some three weeks earlier, but so did the team's general manager, Brian Burke.

This could have been over well before it began had either man put a lid on their comments in the weeks leading up to Bertuzzi's from-behind assault on Moore. That they didn't only added to the intensity level of that night. Both men, as well as the league, could have moved to silence May as well.

The longtime winger with a history of this sort of thing borrowed a page from the script of the movie "Slapshot" and called for a bounty on Moore's head -- a stupid human trick even without the tragedy of Moore's injury.

May now claims he was kidding about the bounty, but it has the same ring to it as Bertuzzi's claim he never intended to hurt Moore although he hunted him down and hammered him into the ice.

All and all, it might be a good time for all concerned to close mouths rather than ranks for the time being.

That's the message behind the fine.

Message tough to decipher
Burke, normally a sensible man and only occasionaly prone to fits of foot-in-mouth disease, did no one any good when he complained that the league only took "10 minutes" to investigate the charge that Crawford and company added to the mayhem.

What's the point, Brian, that it should have taken 10 hours or 10 days to note that May had put a bounty on Moore's head? That at least two weeks were necessary to conclude that that Crawford had stoked the fires of retaliation for days? Or that the Canucks hid their emotions on the night both commissioner Gary Bettman and Campbell were in attendance at the first rematch and waited until both men were gone before extracting retribution some three weeks after the initial hit, on home ice no less?

The NHL may be as shameless as it is two-faced in fining the Canucks while overlooking its own obligation to defuse the situation, but that doesn't give the Canucks or their management team a free pass to inflame an already white-hot issue.

Had everyone in Canuckland just kept quiet and accepted the punishments and the fine, the concentration would have been on an even more ridiculous statement, the one that fell from Bettman's lips.

"I think we ultimately will be judged on our response and the message it sends," Bettman said. "The message being sent is that (the actions of Bertuzzi and the Canucks) it's not part of our game, it has no place in our game and will not be tolerated in our game."

Are we to assume it was simply business as usual when Ottawa and Philadelphia, only days earlier, squared off in a slugfest that produced a record 419 penalty minutes and had both sides promising more of the same when they meet again on April 2?

Bettman is right in one regard: His league will be judged on its response and the message it sends.

As soon as anyone can figure out exactly what that is.

Fights end when playoffs begin
Speaking of numbers, there were 21 fighting majors in that Philadelphia-Ottawa March 5 slugfest, the majority in one period.

Last spring in the playoffs there were 14 fighting majors, seven fights total, in all the playoff games combined.

One gets a sense that fighting isn't just tolerated in the regular season; it's part of the entertainment package the league is selling. Once one hits the postseason, however, the fighters rarely even dress.

Leads one to wonder just what place fighting truly has in "our" game.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.