The Great One Helps NHL Dodge a Bullet

By Jason Menard

Lordy be! Did you hear? The Great One is back on a NHL bench? He’s stepped down from the front office to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to the Promised Land! All is right in the NHL! The prodigal son has return! Call the heralds, shout it from the rooftops!

Oh, and by the way, Todd Bertuzzi’s allowed to play again. But did we tell you about Wayne?

What’s that old song about a spoon full of sugar? Whether intentional or not, and only a select few know for sure, the NHL took advantage of the positive vibes and noise created by its biggest media event in years to overwhelm the announcement of an unsavoury bit of resolved business.

If you have forgotten – and that’s hard to believe considering the footage was, and is once again, in a constant loop on the various sporting channels. But the gist of it is that the Vancouver Canucks’ forward viciously and thuggishly attacked the Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore from behind, driving his face into the ice, pummeling his helpless opponent, and potentially ending his career.

And after the NHL puffed itself up and expelled a lot of hot air announcing that strict suspensions would be in order and this matter would be taken seriously, what was the actual penalty? A handful of regular season games – 13 in total — and a post-season series.

That’s it. Forget this 17-month suspension to which the league is referring. That total conveniently neglects the fact that all the players were locked out for a majority of that time. Sure, he missed out on a few international events, but his participation in the NHL – what really matters to pro hockey players – was barely affected.

So, in the end, when all the rhetoric is stripped away, reality is examined, and the actual punishment is tallied up, potentially ending a player’s career through a vicious and intentional act gets you a slap on the wrist – basically Bertuzzi was sent into the corner for a short time out and is now allowed back to play with the rest of the kids. Well, all except Moore, whose future is still in question.

Thank goodness Wayne decided to come back. The star power, goodwill, and sheer popularity of The Great One is once again enough to save the NHL from itself again.

Despite all the goodwill engendered by the league coming to terms with its players, despite all the positive feelings spread throughout the league by former also-rans now playing on a level field with the big boys, despite the renewed excitement in the league generated by an unprecedented free agent frenzy, the brain trust of the NHL is still unable to stop shooting itself in the foot.

I don’t know Bertuzzi from a hole in the ground, but everything I’ve seen, heard, and read about the man – until that fateful event – was positive. Even after the incident, he has appeared to be genuinely apologetic and remorseful.

But that incident, while not unforgivable, is unforgettable. At a time when the league should be reveling in newfound potential, clips of the Bertuzzi incident are what are running on the sports shows. Instead of focusing on a feel-good story like Gretzky’s return, the talk shows will be rife with discussion of Bertuzzi’s suspension.

This was an opportunity for the league to show true leadership. A longer suspension would have been well received by fans and media alike. It would have proved a point that the league’s memory is long, and that transgressions of this nature will not be tolerated. But even if NHL’s brass had decided on Bertuzzi’s reinstatement, did they really need to smudge the polish that Wayne Gretzky provided on a banner day? Was there any pressing reason to announce a reinstatement?

The only logical, yet still illogical, reason for this was that the NHL was hoping to slide the news of Bertuzzi’s reinstatement under the radar, hoping that the sheer wattage produced by Gretzky’s shining image would be enough to blind everyone from this other bit of business.

Unfortunately for them that didn’t completely happen. And instead of being a day solely about Wayne, the Phoenix Coyotes, and the league welcoming back one of its greats, it turned into a day where certain bad memories, bad feelings, and bad tastes were left in the mouths of everyone that considers themselves a hockey fan.

Eventually Todd Bertuzzi should have been allowed to return – but timing is everything and it appears that the NHL still has some lessons to learn about that.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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