Vancouver Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows was hit with a fine but avoided a suspension after accusing referee Stephane Auger of slapping him with spiteful penalties.
A source close to the situation told The Canadian Press on Tuesday night that Burrows was fined US$2,500 after the NHL reviewed the incident. That’s the most the league could fine Burrows under league rules, as the NHL Players Association did not have a representative present at the review.
It was not known if the league will announce any disciplinary action against Auger in one of the stickier on-ice incidents the NHL has had to deal with this season.
There was also no immediate word from the NHL Officials Association, which would likely be called on to defend Auger against any disciplinary action.
Eyebrows were raised around the league by Burrows’ accusations against the veteran referee after the Canucks’ 3-2 home loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday night, prompting one player to call him a tattletale but others to measure their words.
Like most sports leagues, the NHL has stiff fines for criticizing its officials.
Burrows said Auger called three penalties against him in the third period – two minors and a misconduct – to get back at him for an incident in a Dec. 8 game in Nashville.
Burrows said Auger felt he had been tricked into calling a charging major and game misconduct against the Predators’ Jerred Smithson. The NHL later overturned the Smithson call, ruling that Burrows took a dive on the play.
With the same teams and the same referee on the ice, Burrows told reporters that Auger said before the game that he would “get me back” for making him look bad. While Burrows was serving his second minor penalty of the third period, Shea Weber scored the winning goal for Nashville.
“It was personal,” said Burrows. “The ref came over to me and said I made him look bad in Nashville on the Smithson hit.
“He said he was going to get me back tonight and he did his job in the third.”
When asked if he expected to be suspended for criticizing an official, Burrows said: “I don’t know, but I think (Auger) should sit out the rest of the year, making calls like that.”
Burrows declined to elaborate on his comments after the Canucks practised in St. Paul, Minn., on Tuesday, trying to keep the subject on Wednesday’s game against the Wild.
“We had a great card game on the plane. We got in, had a great practice and now we’re focused on Minnesota,” Burrows said.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he wasn’t concerned about a distraction.
“As coaches and players our focus has to be on the next game,” Vigneault said. “Let management and the NHL deal with what transpired on the ice yesterday.”
Goalie Roberto Luongo acknowledged players were still thinking about the game Tuesday morning, but insisted the flight from Vancouver helped clear their minds.
“We can’t be worrying about what’s going to happen with the officiating. We’ve just got to stay with the process,” Luongo said.
Burrows’ comments surprised Calgary Flames veteran Craig Conroy not only that a referee would tell a player he was out to get him but that the player would then talk about it in the media.
“For Burrows to maybe say something to him or to go to the media and say it, I don’t know,” Conroy said in Calgary. “It’s like a tattletale.
“No-one likes a tattletale. That’s kind of what it looked like to me. Maybe he’s got a valid point and if he does, then someone’s in big trouble. It’s word against word. If no-one else heard it, it’s one guy’s word against another guy’s word. It’s a tough call. Maybe he felt like those two penalties weren’t penalties. Unless someone else heard him, I don’t think you can do anything.”
Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr said Burrows can expect some kind of disciplinary action.
“Usually those things don’t go unpunished,” he said. “It’s tough, especially when something happens in the heat of the battle and you feel that you were wronged, and/or the game’s on the line and there’s an outcome because of it.
“Unfortunately that’s part of the sport we’re in. It’s a team sport and those guys (officials) are part of the game.”
In Toronto, Maple Leafs defenceman Garnet Exelby said getting on the bad side of referees was generally not a good idea.
“From the referees’ side, I’m sure they don’t forget those kinds of things, if they’re verbally abused every time by the same player,” he said. “I think they’re definitely going to remember that whether they’re consciously or unconsciously making up for it down the road.”
Coaches are cautious at the best of times when officials are the topic, and so was Montreal’s Jacques Martin.
“I never experienced any situation like that,” said the veteran coach. “I have tremendous respect for the officials. I know how difficult their job is. They work night after night and they’re never home. It’s a lot of pressure on them. So it’s difficult for me to comment.”
In Calgary, where Pittsburgh takes on the Flames on Wednesday, Penguins star Sidney Crosby said he has never seen a ref get even with a player on the ice, even though “sometimes you feel like that.”
“It’s an emotional game and sometimes you feel like maybe you can draw a call and then you look back and it really wasn’t a penalty,” said Crosby. “I think a lot of the referees out there have been doing this a long time and they’re able to kind of separate that.”
Auger, 39, an NHL official since 2000, and the 28-year-old Burrows are both from the Montreal area.
Burrows emerged as a force for the Canucks last year, combining feisty play with a 28-goal season. He has been hot of late, with nine goals in his last nine games and 19 for the season.
The Burrows incident is the second high-profile story to come out of Vancouver this week. Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff,was the victim of a fan in Vancouver aiming a laser pointer at him during Calgary’s 3-2 shootout win over the Canucks on Saturday night.
For his part, Kiprusoff said the laser pointer didn’t affect him.
“I always close my eyes when they shoot anyways,” Kiprusoff said jokingly. “I did hear about it during the game and I saw it on TV after the game.
“I didn’t notice it during the play.”
Kirprusoff added he hopes whoever is responsible gets punished.
“It’s one guy who’s doing it. Hopefully they catch guys like that. That wasn’t a cool thing to do.”
Chris Johnston in Toronto, Laurence Heinen in Calgary and The Associated Press contributed to this report.