Bertuzzi will have to handle life sentence

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Whatever else happens in the turbulent career of Todd Bertuzzi, he is certain to go down as taking the stiffest sentence in the history of the National Hockey League.

He got life for dry-gulching Steve Moore. Yes, life.

A convincingly contrite Bertuzzi, addressing the media for the first time in 17 months at Canada's Olympic orientation camp, said Monday he hoped his career and life "aren't defined by what happened, but rather by what I did before and, most importantly, what I do after."

As if.

Nope, the 20-game suspension for jumping Moore from behind to inflict a concussion, broken bones in his neck and doubts about his future were only part of it. So was the $501,000 in lost salary, another half that in endorsement possibilities and a lost winter of play in Europe.

Bertuzzi is going to pay dearly forever, whatever happens in a civil action Moore brought against him and other members of the Vancouver Canucks. Nobody will ever forget.

Much of it relates to optics.

Here was an enormous power forward gliding up behind the much-smaller and less-celebrated Moore to wallop him and drive his head into the ice.

This wasn't Tie Domi knocking out Ulf Samuelsson with a bare-knuckled sucker punch while they stood beside each other during a break in action. This wasn't even Marty McSorley cranking Donald Brashear on the helmet with his stick in another infamous knockout.

Domi, McSorley and Brashear were sluggers, Samuelsson a smart-mouthed, low-bridge knee-checker. Moore was just a rookie trying to make it.

On top of that, a more graphic clip than the Bertuzzi attack does not exist and it's likely none of its kind has ever been replayed more often.

The result has been a chorus of criticism that Bertuzzi got off lightly.

Not so, says Western professor and former Mustangs hockey coach Ron Watson, who teaches a course called Sports and the Law. "I think he's paid enough . . . a very steep price."

And will continue to pay.

"The financial impact was huge and the penalty that he paid and his family paid was huge," Watson added.

"I think people tend to look at an issue and say, 'That wasn't nearly enough,' but any judgment, in court or NHL boardrooms, says, 'Let's take all factors into account,' and I think they've done that."

In other words, Bertuzzi got what Domi, McSorley and others who've assaulted opponents got, both in court (a conditional discharge, community service) and at the league level.

Some feel Bertuzzi should be sidelined as long as the victim, an eye-for-an-eye sentence. Others think a full year's suspension would fit the crime.

But that has deeper implications. The NHL covered its backside. Had it penalized Bertuzzi in excess of what has become the norm, it could be subject of a pretty heavy lawsuit from a player it banned from working.

Always, there is the tired argument that had Bertuzzi done on the street what he did on the ice, he would be facing criminal charges. Courts have always ruled that hockey players acknowledge an implied threat of injury by stepping on the ice, not on the street.

As usual, the victim tends to be forgotten. Truth is, Moore is merely out of the picture for the moment and will be front and centre when Bertuzzi's punishment continues.

"Things will unfold on the civil suit that probably will allow (Moore) to be compensated (if his career is over)," Watson predicted.

Watson has monitored sports cases for years and suspects there'll be an out-of-court settlement.

The total cost to Bertuzzi could be as much as $1.5 million by the time this is over.

He'd probably pay double that to get his reputation restored.


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