No witness, no foul

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

Without testimony from a reliable third party that Sean Avery directed a racial slur at Georges Laraque, it came down to Laraque's word against the word of a guy the NHL reprimanded two weeks ago for making racist comments.

And while that might seem open and shut enough for some, the league simply couldn't get a conviction on charges this serious based on nothing more than hearsay evidence.

The late Johnny Cochrane could get it thrown out of court in five minutes: If the refs don't hear, then Avery's clear.

"I knew the league wouldn't be able to do anything because there were no witnesses, but you want to tell them in case it ever happens in the future," said Laraque, who stands by his charges. "I'm not deaf. I heard it or I wouldn't have done this. This is pretty serious stuff, something you don't play around with."

So now what? While Avery is free to search for the real racists, all Laraque can do is a slow burn, knowing that someone who allegedly crossed a very ugly line will be granted complete immunity next time they meet.

PLAY THE TURTLE CARD

All Avery has to do is play the turtle card, like he did when Denis Gauthier and Ian Laperriere challenged him on his French Canadian insults, and he gets a free pass.

Jump him when the Kings visit Dec. 23 and Laraque's team, which missed the playoffs by one game last year, is shorthanded for seven minutes against a conference rival. If Avery gets hurt in the attack, Laraque is the new Bertuzzi.

So if somebody looks him in the eye and calls him a monkey in the new NHL, all Laraque can do is take it.

"Guys like that are protected," he shrugged. "That's why you can't do anything. If it was the old-fashioned way, maybe some guys would watch what they say. But with (the instigator rule), guys like that are protected, that's for sure. I don't want to be in a position where I miss half the season because of this. I'll just let the NHL deal with it."

The NHL deals with its so-called agitators by letting them run amok. They can spend all game doing nothing but taking runs at people and talking trash (as long as there are no witnesses to the really hurtful stuff), secure in the knowledge that the league's skirt will always be wide enough to keep them safe from accountability.

"There's nothing you can do, especially in a close game," said Steve Staios. "I'm not one of those guys who says we should go back to the old rules. I think the new rules are great for the game, great for the fans, but if they took out the instigator rule you'd see a big change in some players and I think you'd see it immediately. But I don't know if that's the image the NHL wants to portray."

NERDS IN THE MEDIA

It's not. While most players and most true hockey fans would love it if some discretion was applied to the instigator penalty, intellectual wannabees and other nerds in the media who were always picked last for dodgeball would be crying in their tea. Never mind that more players are injured by high sticks and kill-shot bodychecks than in fights. Never mind that more incidents are allowed to fester, boil over and turn ugly because a long-standing relief valve has been closed. Fighting looks bad, so it has to go.

Honest tough guys get two, five and 10. Cowards get a free pass.

"Unfortunately there's rules to protect guys like that so they can get away with it," said Ethan Moreau. "Whether we like it or not it's part of the game and you have to accept it. You can always just grab a guy and start beating on him, but you have to be ready for the consequences.

"If Georges grabs him and breaks his face is it worth it? Probably not. Now he's suspended and loses part of his income. Does it make you feel that much better? Probably not."


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