NHL needs to look into Burrows' complaint

Vancouver Canucks Alex Burrows (right) falls to the ice while chasing a puck with Nashville...

Vancouver Canucks Alex Burrows (right) falls to the ice while chasing a puck with Nashville Predators Dan Hamhius during the third period of their game in Vancouver on Monday, Jan. 11. Burrows was given a penalty by referee Stephane Auger for unsportsmanlike conduct for taking a dive on the play. The NHL is investigating game incidents involving Auger and Burrows. (REUTERS/Andy Clark)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:52 AM ET

So, Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows has put public voice to what many have muttered: there are NHL referees out to get them.

Ask just about any NHL player or coach or general manager if he believes there is a particular referee who routinely applies the rules unfairly when it comes to them and they will say yes.

If they say no, they just haven’t been around long enough.

There have been many occasions when players, coaches or GMs have ripped referees for their work after a game, but they are usually a one-off kind of deal.

Burrows’ allegations that referee Stephane Auger told him before Monday night’s game with the Nashville Predators he would get retribution for past events takes the player-referee dynamic to a different level.

Not to say referees don’t have long memories. It just doesn’t get talked about as blatantly as Burrows did in his riveting post-game accusations.

“Do referees make calls on guys based on previous experiences? Of course they do,” one NHL referee told Sun Media yesterday. “If there’s a guy who you think dives frequently and has shown you up in the past, you might tell him, ‘stick to playing hockey and let me worry about making the calls you deserve. Let’s just both worry about doing our own jobs.’ Does he get the borderline call? Of course not.

“But if you’re going to take it out on a player, you’ve got to make sure there’s a call there. You can’t make a call up. We’re just too scrutinized.”

Burrows allegations certainly up the ante. They’ve taken the issue of vindictive referees into the public forum and forced the NHL to deal with it.

It will be interesting to see how the league deals with this. Any issue that attacks the integrity of competitive balance strikes at the core of a league’s product. Burrows’ accusations bring into question Auger’s integrity and, by extension, anybody wearing a black-and-white striped shirt.

I don’t think the league can just sweep this away with a “he said, she said,” shrug of the shoulders. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman needs to personally get involved and determine if Burrows’ allegations are true or not.

Somebody is guilty here.

Burrows had an interview with the NHL yesterday, but was only a fined, according to league by-laws governing criticism of officials. Regardless of whether or not what he said was true, players and team officials are not allowed to publicly criticize the work of the referees.

Auger had a chance to tell his side of his story, too. NHL sources indicated last night the Burrows fine would represent closure as far as the NHL is concerned, but this episode will leave a smell in the air.

Another of his colleagues just couldn’t believe Auger would tell Burrows before the game he intended to get some payback for Burrows making him look bad on that call involving the Predators’ Jerred Smithson last month (Auger called Smithson for a charging major and game misconduct which were rescinded by the league).

“I just think Stephane is too smart, too well-read and too much a gentleman to do that,” said the referee. “If somebody was going to do that, just do it. It would just be stupid to tell the player before hand on the ice in front of thousands of people and television cameras.”

The controversial call came in the third period with the Canucks on the power play. Burrows and Nashville’s Joel Ward bumped off a faceoff and Ward went down. It looks like incidental contact, but you could see where a referee could interpret it as a penalty. Ward went down and was prevented from getting out to the point. It’s not a completely phantom call as some have categorized it.

The play will be endlessly scrutinized now.

As one NHL referee summed it all up yesterday: “This is not going to a good place.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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