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NHL Suspends Bertuzzi for the Season, Playoffs

March 12, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Defending its integrity while images of an enraged Todd Bertuzzi punching a stunned Steve Moore were replayed on TV Thursday, the NHL punished Bertuzzi in ways that could reverberate for years.

The burly Vancouver winger, whose blindside punch Monday sent the Colorado rookie to the hospital with neck and facial injuries, was suspended for the rest of the season and the playoffs, and will lose at least $501,926.39 in salary. He can ask Commissioner Gary Bettman to reinstate him before the 2004-05 season or whenever the NHL resumes playing if a lockout delays or cancels next season.

In addition, the Canucks were fined $250,000 for failing to "take the temperature down" after the Avalanche turned the game into a rout, said Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations.

"We felt that the player, Todd Bertuzzi, had given up his right to perform the rest of the season and we had to address the fact, should he be out of the playoffs?" Campbell said. "One round? Two rounds? We felt his right to perform the rest of the season, he had to give that up and we had to take it away from him.

"It is severe. We dealt with Todd Bertuzzi like we would with any other player in that situation. Because Todd Bertuzzi is the impact player he is and the ramifications, the severity of this, will affect the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs, but we couldn't consider that. We had to consider the act itself and the player and the situation he was in."

Bertuzzi was the second-leading scorer for the Canucks, a Stanley Cup contender.

Trying to lure Moore into a fight to avenge Moore's hit on Vancouver captain Markus Naslund on Feb. 16 -- after which Canuck Coach Marc Crawford accused Moore of a cheap shot and winger Brad May put a bounty on Moore -- Bertuzzi tugged on his jersey several times to no avail. Bertuzzi then punched Moore from the side with his gloved right hand. Moore fell to the ice with Bertuzzi atop him and apparently ready to strike again before Colorado's Andrei Nikolishin intervened.

Bertuzzi's term encompasses the final 13 games of the season and playoff games, which are more important and more lucrative to clubs. Bettman will also determine if he can play in this summer's World Cup of Hockey, a decision Bettman said would be influenced by Moore's progress.

Moore has a concussion, chip fractures in two vertebrae and facial lacerations. He remains under observation at a Vancouver hospital. He's out for the season, but doctors said there was no damage to his spinal cord or nerves. His family released a statement, thanking the Avalanche and medical personnel but declining to comment on the incident or the NHL's sanctions.

"Any time a player gets hurt on the ice, you ask the question, did someone on the other team do something wrong to cause this injury, and how serious was it, and was it a hockey play, was it a totally non-hockey play?" Campbell said. "In the question of Steve Moore, he suffered serious injuries because of a non-hockey play. It wasn't two players racing for the puck. It wasn't a body check that went over and above the legal line."

Campbell also said he'd considered suspending Crawford but "felt the entire Vancouver organization should be held accountable."

Brian Burke, who preceded Campbell as the NHL's disciplinarian before leaving in 1998 to run the Canucks, condemned the ruling and said he was considering an appeal.

"As far as I can tell, the investigation into this matter lasted less than 10 minutes and all took place [Wednesday]," Burke said. "You're talking about a quality hockey player who made a mistake."

A costly mistake for the Canucks and a league facing financial woes, labor discord and low TV ratings.

"To me, it was a gutless act and it was premeditated," said ESPN commentator Bill Clement, twice a Stanley Cup winner with the Flyers. "It sets us back.... There's no respect or honor, or very little, anymore. There are so many acts of cowardice, as opposed to acts of courage. The honor that we could use as a platform for legitimacy is disappearing, with everything like drawing penalties by faking and hitting from behind."

King forward Sean Avery, who leads the NHL with 234 penalty minutes, told ESPN.com in December that Bertuzzi "has a short fuse and it's easy to get him off his game." Avery, who clashed with him twice during a 3-1 loss to the Canucks Jan. 8, said the suspension was fair because it discounted Bertuzzi's star status.

"I think that it sets a precedent for all these skilled guys in the league that think they can do anything they want and get away with it. For the most part, they do," Avery said. "... Play your game, be a skilled guy. Hopefully it will put some sense into some of these guys."

Ruslan Salei of the Mighty Ducks, suspended for 10 games by the NHL for hitting Mike Modano from behind in the opener of the 1999-2000 season, understands what Bertuzzi is going through.

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