Question to Avs: Do you remember Moore?

Updated: September 16, 2005, 1:54 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

Eighteen months later, the most curious attitude about the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore mess is being displayed by none other than … the Colorado Avalanche.

This goes beyond the front office's signing of unrestricted free agent Brad May, the ex-Canuck whose "bounty" remark during the emotional buildup to the Bertuzzi assault on Moore resulted in May's inclusion as a defendant in Moore's pending civil lawsuit.

Brad May
Jeff Vinnick/Getty ImagesPreviously with the Canucks, Brad May is known for his physical play.

To see the signing of veteran left wing May as anything other than improving a product under the game's traditional mindset misses the much larger point and is unfair.

Some who have exploited May's signing as a vehicle for relentless shame-on-the-Avalanche campaigning had acted previously as if writing or talking about hockey was akin to being sent to cover a junior-varsity high school football game. Plus, they wouldn't know Steve Moore if he sat down next to them.

In fact, the May signing could be rationalized as a reasonable competitive move, as an addition of an enforcer who can play a little bit. Avalanche veterans' public endorsement of both May as a good guy, and of his signing, is genuine.

It doesn't do much good to point out that May didn't do anything, and that the majority of the blame -- if not all of it -- falls on others. It just looks bad, and the Avalanche players' complete lack of public concern for Moore is exacerbating the problem.

And the problem is perception.

The Avalanche are leaning right into that punch to their otherwise deservedly positive image, in a market that has produced sellouts since the fall of 1995.

The signing of May is part of an overall atmosphere that doesn't involve tangible examples, as much as a feeling virtually everyone in Denver with empathy for Moore can't shed.

It has left a lot of folks, even those inclined to be reasonable, shaking their heads and wanting to say: "Yo! Guys! Anybody remember the fellow in the pool of blood? Wasn't he your teammate, too?"

Right or wrong, May's signing was interpreted as a final cutting of the ties with Moore. If that isn't true, the Avalanche -- front office and players -- need to do more to combat it.

In August, Moore said he hoped to come to Denver soon to work with the team's medical staff, and perhaps skate at the team's facility. That hasn't happened.

General manager Pierre Lacroix has expressed the technically understandable and justifiable position that his hands are tied, that until Moore is cleared to take contact and can pass a physical, he cannot sign a contract and be on the ice under Avalanche auspices.

Lacroix is sincere and truly does care about Moore. But sometimes the technicalities get in the way of what's right. And what's right is that as long as Moore is trying to recover from injuries suffered in an Avalanche sweater -- and that's what he's doing, not indulging in some sort of grab for money -- he should be considered part of the Colorado organization.

"We made it clear to him back then that we will welcome him when he gets a full release on his medical status,'' Lacroix said. "Last I heard, he didn't have it yet. A non-contracted player, whether Steve Moore or anybody else & we can't have a guy, for liability reasons, practice with us. He wanted to train with us. He needs to get his medical release, and he was very comfortable with that. He said he could train without taking contact, but we're in training camp.''

It's not as though anyone expects the Avalanche to sign Moore and install him as the second-line center. He isn't physically up to that. He might never be, but even if doctors tell him to give up an NHL comeback, that doesn't mean the Avalanche should abandon him. The "Steve-is-history" attitude in the organization, especially among his former teammates, is perplexing. It's a complete contradiction to the rhetoric about hockey teammates always being there for one another -- and even about simple human compassion and respect. And it's too pat to say that the Avalanche spiritually parted ways with Moore because: (a) like Dennis Polonich and Henry Boucha before him, Moore went against the let-the-game-police-itself coda and sued over on-ice events, and (b) the Avalanche players needed to choose May or Moore, and that's an obvious choice given the fact that one of them is going to be in their lineup. This "Steve Who?" approach seemed to be taking root before the lawsuit and May's signing.

It doesn't take a Supreme Court nominee to guess there might be some legality-based machinations, motives and wariness involved on all fronts, given Moore's pending lawsuit in Denver.

He is not suing the NHL, but rather the Canucks, plus Bertuzzi, May, ex-general manager Brian Burke and coach Marc Crawford. If the lawsuit passes the jurisdictional test -- a hearing on whether it's appropriate to allow the case to go forward in Denver, which probably will be held in the next three weeks -- and the Moore legal team keeps May among the defendants, it will get very sticky.

To his credit, when the Avalanche reported for physicals this week, May faced the music.

"I've played for a lot of years in this league with integrity and honor, and I'm proud to be who I am," he said. "I don't feel bad, but I feel the whole situation is regrettable -- regrettable for the individual, for both teams and for hockey in general.''

May's "bounty" remark was clearly a derivative of "Slap Shot," a movie many hockey fans can recite by heart. After Moore's unpenalized hit on Markus Naslund in the Feb. 16 game knocked Naslund out of the lineup for three games with a concussion, May told The Vancouver Sun: "There's definitely a bounty on his head. Clean hit or not, that's our best player, and you respond. It's going to be fun when we get him.''

In real life this week, May said his comment came "in a one-on-one conversation with [a Vancouver writer], and it wasn't ... '' May paused, then said, "I have never acted without honor and integrity. I believe that's why I'm here. I add something to a locker room. I'm a good teammate. I've always been a good teammate. I'm passionate and there's no question, I'm very, very loyal.''

Loyal? The word plays well in a dressing room, and it should. But what is making a lot of folks uncomfortable in Denver is the sense that the Avalanche -- including holdover Moore teammates -- are making no effort to show loyalty to Moore. And this is a man who when last seen in the NHL, was wearing a Colorado sweater as he was being wheeled off the ice with a broken neck, cuts and a severe concussion.

As of now, Moore continues to skate and work out on his own. He is soon expected to get the results of tests taken last month at the Cleveland Clinic. His agent Larry Kelly said he contacted the Avalanche and asked about Moore's traveling to Denver. "Pierre said, 'If he can get clearance, give us a shout and we'll see what the lay of the land is at that point,"' Kelly said.

In the meantime, the Avalanche should start acting like they want the right things for Moore, instead of treating him like a leper. If he is around the team facilities and runs into Brad May, and if May is the man he proclaims himself to be, he will either offer his hand and say he hopes Moore recovers, or just nod and move on.

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."

Terry Frei

Special to ESPN.com
Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post. He is also the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."