Bertuzzi's reinstatement shameful

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

The so-called new National Hockey League is a lot like the old National Hockey League when it comes to guts. It doesn't have any.

The NHL has reinstated Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi.

He was suspended indefinitely on March 8, 2004, after jumping Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore from behind, punching him and driving his head into the ice.

The result was a broken neck and concussion. Moore hasn't played since. Some reports have him close to returning, others indicate he's still a long way from playing competitively and may never be able to play again.

Bertuzzi's suspension lasted 13 regular season games and seven playoff games. He lost about $500,000 US in salary.

In an effort to befuddle right-thinking hockey fans who recognize the reinstatement as a joke, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released the following statement:

"A total suspension of approximately 17 calendar months from the date of the incident is the appropriate sanction to impose in this case given the nature and severity of the act in question and the overall totality of circumstances."

It also has to be a coincidence that Bettman decided to announce the reinstatement on the day Wayne Gretzky announced he is going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes. One wonders where all the focus is going to be?

Yo, Gary, stop trying to fool the troops here. We're not talking 17 months, we're talking 20 games. Your league just gave a guy who broke another guy's neck, gave him a career-threatening concussion and damaged the precious reputation of your league throughout the world, a 20-game suspension.

Yeah, you guys are really serious about cleaning up the game. With this type of fortitude, how long should we expect the rules you established -- too much celebration and back-slapping during the lockout -- to last? A week and a half maybe?

In case you missed it, Gary, no hockey has been played since the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames played the NHL's last game June 7, 2004, 14 months ago.

According to your reasoning, the other 700 or so players in the NHL also served a 14-month suspension.

All they did was follow their union leaders in looking for a new collective bargaining agreement. They didn't sucker-punch anyone.

Let's not confuse the issue of the suspension with the NHL lockout.

Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely. Can you imagine what would have happened if Bettman, after investigating the attack, had told the watching world, fans and non-fans alike, that he was suspending Bertuzzi for a mere 20 games?

Yet that's the price Bettman has placed on the career of the hockey players who play in his league. It's the value he places on what Moore does for a living, of his chosen profession. In fact it's what Bettman thinks the value should be on Moore's quality of life.

All that is apparently worth 20 games and $500,000 US.

David Moore of London is Steve's uncle. When contacted about the decision to reinstate Bertuzzi, David was quiet. After trying to find something to say, he merely said he didn't want to say anything.

There really isn't much to say.

When Bertuzzi deliberately attacked Moore, he didn't believe for a second he was going to break his neck and perhaps end his career. He certainly didn't think the NHL would lock out its players for more than a year.

If he could foresee any of that, no matter what the unwritten rules of the game say, Bertuzzi wouldn't have attempted to pay Moore back for his check on teammate Markus Naslund.

But he did attack him. He did break his neck and the NHL did lock out its players.

It's like drinking and driving. It's wrong but some people do it anyway, hoping there are no consequences to pay. If you get caught, you face a one-year driving suspension. If you kill someone, you face something a lot worse.

The reason you make the decision is the same. The consequences are far different.

By not extending Bertuzzi's suspension by even a token 20 games, Bettman has sent the message that the NHL just wants to put this behind, that the league didn't care what happened to Moore.

And what about the message sent out to the other players? Do what Bertuzzi did and you'll get a whopping 20 games.

Big deal.

It's shameful.

The NHL lockout should have had no impact on the Bertuzzi suspension. He needs to pay a suitable price.

Instead, he got off at a bargain-basement discount.


Videos

Photos