Amidst all the excitement surrounding Brian Burke’s departure from Anaheim, there was a rather small item of NHL business that went largely overlooked. And if there was any doubt how the powers that be in the NHL feel about vigilante justice and their true feelings about the instigator rule, their views were on full display the day after the Dallas Stars visited the Los Angeles Kings.
The NHL also proved beyond a reasonable doubt that even they know they are powerless to police the players themselves and seem rather content to allow the hired help to do it instead.
Here’s what happened. In the final minute of regulation time of the Kings’ 3-2 shootout win over Dallas Tuesday night, Dustin Brown drilled Mike Ribeiro into the boards, which prompted Brenden Morrow to jump to his teammate’s defense and fight Brown. It’s the kind of scene you see almost on a nightly basis whether the hits are clean or dirty.
Morrow’s actions originally earned him an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game and Stars coach Dave Tippett was to be fined $10,000. But the very next day, the NHL rescinded both penalties, exercising its right to review each case and determine whether or not the infraction meets the “spirit of the rule.”
The league decided this situation did not and allowed both Morrow and Tippett off the hook. It was decided the sole purpose of the fight was to avenge the Brown hit on Ribeiro.
There’s only one problem here. On the original play, Brown received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding.
So, let’s see here. The league penalizes a player by throwing him out of the game for boarding, then essentially allows his opponent to take matters into his own hands and beat up that player, too.
Any way you look at it, the optics are terrible. Either the league is freely allowing frontier justice with impunity – something the cave dwellers out there undoubtedly think is a good thing – or it is clearly admitting its penalties for serious offenses such as boarding aren’t severe enough and the players have no choice but to pursue vigilante justice themselves.
These are the same kinds of boarding calls everyone believes have become a blight on the game and must be eliminated.
It’s that kind of leadership that has the NHL firmly entrenched in the Dark Ages.
BURKE’S BLANK CHECK
When Brian Burke does eventually end up in Toronto, look for him to have unfettered authority over the hockey department and be paid a lot of money to run it.
The Leafs essentially assured that would happen with their very public pursuit of Burke and their stated objective the next GM have a Stanley Cup ring. What they did was paint themselves into a corner with Burke, giving him license to demand whatever he wants. The Leafs will come out of this looking like buffoons if they let Burke get away now.
In fact, Burke is probably in a better position now than he was when the Leafs asked for permission to speak with him last summer.
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