Bettman missed his chance to raise bar

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Todd Bertuzzi is free to return to the NHL, but he'll do it while on probation.

I can imagine how this must hurt.

Suspend him for 13 games if you must, Gary Bettman. Pull him from the playoffs. Leach $500,000 US off his paycheque.

But probation.

"Mr. Bertuzzi is on notice that he will be held strictly accountable to a higher standard than other NHL players for their on-ice conduct during the 2005-20006 season," the NHL commissioner said yesterday in clearing Bertuzzi to return to the game.

Finally, a bar set ankle high.

A standard higher than the eight games Wade Belak got for all but helicoptering his stick against the forehead of Florida Panther Ossi Vaananen in March 2004.

A higher standard than the laughable one that has allowed 100 or so players who have no real business in the league to make a living hooking and holding, intimidating and fighting.

A standard far below the one observed in pretty well any house league in any city.

Telling Todd Bertuzzi that he has to play a little more cleanly than the rest of the NHL is like telling the lady who left her kid in a sweltering car that if she's going to do that again, she'll have to open the window a crack.

Look, it's not hard to see where Bettman is coming from. The NHL, as it has for a while, was faced with an optics issue on Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi's attack on Moore refocused just how troubled the game's core values had become. The video has been slow-motioned into our consciousness and if there was no compelling image about how far the game had sunk during the lockout, no shot of Gary Bettman trying to club Bob Goodenow with his briefcase, then Bertuzzi's sickening attack on Steve Moore would do.

Bettman also was facing the inconvenient question concerning a league that sanctioned a grinding, suffocating defensive style and winked knowingly at fighting being just a little complicit in the whole thing.

Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore was a problem that had to go away, especially in the afterglow of free agent signings that pushed hockey back into the unfamiliar terrain of news. Better to deal with it now, before abating the flow of feel-good stories about the new NHL ready in the fall.

That just left the matter of the penalty. As Bettman himself acknowledged, most people feel just about any penalty is too light. Twenty five per cent of the respondents to a Decima poll wanted Bertuzzi gone for life. Those folks were the non-hockey types. A similar Sun poll found opinion split right down the middle as to whether Bertuzzi should be back.

Unlike Bettman, I've never bought the idea that because Bertuzzi's suspension covered the lockout year, the lost opportunities to play in Europe should be factored in. After careful consideration, I opt for the touch rockos argument. Lots of people who did nothing save for follow the wrong union leader lost lots of money last year. In fact, you would hard pressed to find someone who was more deserving of a lost salary than Bertuzzi. Besides, if you get a two-week detention in the last week of school, are you suspended through the summer? No league, no suspension.

What matters is remorse.

Bertuzzi is the only one who can say whether he has suffered enough. He's the only one who knows if he's a changed man. Obviously, he convinced Bettman.

There are plenty of casualties here: the game's reputation, perhaps Moore's career, with nary a winner in sight.

I think Bertuzzi got off too light. I think halfway through the season would have been appropriate.Who knows? Moore might have been back in the game.

But there was no point in waiting for that day. It might never happen.

There is one thing the league can do to inject a measure of worth into this sordid affair.

There is one thing Bettman and his agents can do to make this, if not palatable, than at least a little less tragic.

Raise the bar.


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