Hockey gets short-changed

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Okay, so Todd Bertuzzi is not going to jail. Be honest. You knew that was never going to happen anyway.

The courts have been meticulous about this: They don't want any role in the ongoing debate on hockey violence. They're too busy mismanaging the day-to-day violence in the rest of society. The third-man-in rule is way beyond them.

RIGHTS TRAMPLED

Of course, Steve Moore -- remember him? The guy who got mugged? -- had his rights trampled into the ice once again when the judge said he didn't want to hear his victim-impact statement.

That critical oversight aside, you can argue that Bertuzzi has been well-punished for his brutal attack on Moore last March 8. He lost $500,000 US in salary and is still under suspension by the NHL, a ban that is being upheld in Europe, where Bertuzzi had hoped to play. Presumably, Bertuzzi's ban will be reviewed whenever the NHL gets around to settling its collective bargaining mess but each day the meter is still running.

It is expected that, at some time in the future, Moore and his lawyers will launch a civil action against Bertuzzi. A Moore victory or a settlement in such a matter would undoubtedly cost Bertuzzi another enormous pile of cash, given that it is not clear whether Moore will ever be able to earn a living playing the game again. He fractured two vertebra in his neck in the attack and is still suffering serious post-concussion syndrome symptoms.

So, Bertuzzi is not off the hook in any way. He has paid and he'll probably pay some more and deserves to.

Comparatively speaking, no matter what value you place on justice, there are plenty of convicted criminals in this country who have paid and will pay a relatively smaller price for their misdeeds than has Bertuzzi, even if it looks as if he has weaselled out of a vacation at the crowbar hotel.

The really unfortunate sidebar of the plea bargain is that hockey in general and the NHL in particular has been able to dodge an exhaustive examination of the culture of violence that spawned this incident, hundreds of incidents in the past and, undoubtedly, will spawn hundreds more to come.

It is both curious and ironic that one of the important factors that is holding back the NHL from penetrating the lucrative markets it covets in the United States is its barbaric reputation. The so-called "code" that governs on-ice behaviour promotes vigilante justice. It is that code that Bertuzzi put his trust in and it is that code that has vandalized his career.

In his mind, Bertuzzi was merely extracting the required retribution for a 21-day-old hit, borderline legal, by Moore on Canucks captain Markus Naslund. Premeditated? Ya think?

But he crossed that thin, imaginary line, that moving target between acceptable and unacceptable. Hockey players, and especially NHL players, are always gauging where that line is. Bertuzzi crossed way over with his vicious, blind-side punch of a much smaller man, but others are always flirting with the boundaries on virtually every shift.

These kinds of players who deliver and accept harsh punishment without complaint and within acceptable boundaries exemplify what the culture of hockey pridefully considers its heart and soul, toughness and honour.

It is significant to remember that Vancouver coach Marc Crawford was fined $250,000 for his failure to defuse the situation that led to Bertuzzi's thuggery. Of course, Crawford would no more have done that than fly to the moon. To do otherwise would have confused his players.

We suppose that the debate about unfettered violence in the game always starts and ends with fighting, though it's seldom during real, honest look-him-in-the-eye fisticuffs that anyone gets hurt. The real stomach-turning stuff usually involves something more nasty than a few flying fists. But if fighting has to be the first element to go, then so be it.

GAME SHORT-CHANGED

But there's more, so much more, that needs to be debated. Hockey is a marvellous game that has, in some ways, lost its way.

Sadly, this isn't a discussion that will occupy the time of a Vancouver court as it might have in January, illuminating the ugly underbelly of a game that could be so much better. Todd Bertuzzi got his deal, fair and square. The game itself got short-changed.


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