Not to rain on his big lottery win, but there’s a pretty good argument to be made that ex-NHLer Steve Moore shouldn’t have received a dime from anyone.
Yesterday afternoon (September 4) it was announced that the former Colorado Avalanche forward finally reached an out-of-court settlement with Todd Bertuzzi for an incident that took place a full decade ago. On March 8, 2004, Bertuzzi, who was playing for the Vancouver Canucks, skated up the ice after Moore, grabbed his jersey, and then punched him in the side of the head. In the ensuing dog pile, Moore received three fractured vertebrae, facial cuts, and a concussion. He hasn’t played professional hockey since.
For those who might not remember the hand wringing as it was replayed on The Oprah Winfrey Show the next day, the incident, went like this:
Despite being condemned as the worst thing to happen in hockey since Matt Cooke, it wasn’t the first time we’d seen such an attack. They happen all the time, always have, and always will. In fact, the incident was eerily reminiscent of this one here, the difference being that Moore didn’t receive an added punch in the back of the head from Gino Odjick after being suckered. And that Lindros didn’t pop up and immediately run to his lawyer:
What’s gotten lost in all the hysteria in the wake of the hit is that Moore got exactly what he asked for. And by that, we’re talking about a punch in the head, which is exactly what Bertuzzi delivered: nothing more, and nothing less. Moore wasn’t the first person to have been sucker-punched in the head and concussed in retribution for a previously committed on-ice crime.
Or, more recently, this, from last season.
Like it or not, hockey is all about settling scores for previous injustices. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. When it’s time to settle a score, the unwritten rules of hockey state you’ve got to buck up. Even a professional stain on the game like Matt Cooke understands that; after concussing Marc Savard with an elbow and effectively ended his career, he stepped up and fought Savard's Boston teammate Shawn Thornton the next game. Moore, who had concussed Canucks’ captain Markus Naslund two games earlier, refused do that with Bertuzzi, Brad May, and Sean Pronger on March 8.
Moore was punched in the head for one simple reason: the Code. And make no mistake about it, the reason this case settled before being dragged into court was the Code. The last thing NHL president Gary Bettman wanted was an endless parade to the witness box of former players, coaches, and general managers. Just as what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens on the ice stays on the ice where the Code is concerned.
Where things went wrong this time was that there was collateral damage, which, let’s face it, no one, from Bertuzzi on down, wanted to see. Immediately after the punch, a dog pile ensued, with Bertuzzi, then-Canuck Sean Pronger, and Colorado Avalanche player Andrei Nikolishin all landing on top of Moore, leading to the fractured vertebrae, facial cuts, and a concussion. We’ll never know if the punch caused that, or if the dog pile did.
No one can argue that the injuries were the intended result of the hit. What’s inarguable is that, like it or not, over-the-line acts are part of hockey—always have been and always will be, whether you’re talking Dale Hunter attacking and injuring Pierre Turgeon for scoring a goal in a playoff game…
...or Tie Domi creaming Scott Niedermayer as payback for something earlier in a playoff series.
Hockey is a beautiful game, but it’s also a vicious game where people sometimes do stupid things. And that goes double when it comes to settling scores. If you don’t like it, sign up for ballet. Or soccer.
The Code calls for eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. To understand what happened in the Moore-Bertuzzi incident, one has to flash back to February 16, 2004, when a Canucks-Avalanche game set the stage for the March 8 attack. Here’s a refresher where you will see a rookie player, who at age 25 had played a grand total of 69 NHL games, coming cross-ice and laying out the leading scorer in the league at the time. Playing the puck does not seem to be a concern.
That no penalty was called speaks more the hopelessness of the NHL and its referees than it does to whether the play was clean or not. It isn’t a clean hit. To quote outraged then-Canucks coach Marc Crawford afterward, it was “a cheap shot by a young kid on a captain, leading scorer in the league” and “a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit”. And the Code is simple: you simply don't do such a thing to the opposing team's star players.
Steve Moore didn’t play in the league for long and probably wasn’t going to. In the years that followed, he’s often bemoaned the fact that his NHL career was cut short in his rookie year. What he doesn’t seem to get is that he was a 25-year-old fourth-line forward in his rookie year, not exactly a sign that someone is going to have a long and storied career.
Moore was also no one’s idea of an angel, despite his being portrayed as such by those who always empathize with the victim in hockey. Just weeks before the Bertuzzi attack, Moore had driven the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Martin St. Louis from behind, headfirst into the boards. If Crawford had been there, he might have observed that it was a “marginal player going after a superstar”, not to mention a “cheap shot”.
What Moore has long seemed unable to fathom is that what happened to him is part of hockey: taking a punch to the head. And don’t start with talk that Moore fought Canuck Matt Cooke earlier in the Bertuzzi-incident game and should have therefore gotten a free pass for the rest of the night.
Hockey is, again, about evening scores. When Moore hit Naslund, he concussed him—at a time when concussions were treated far differently than today—leaving him with chipped teeth and bone chips in his elbow. There was a price to be paid for that. The Canucks needed a pound of flesh. And 19,000 people at GM Place were screaming for it that night, at least until it became clear that Moore might have been seriously hurt.
There are many, including Don Cherry, who argue that Naslund was never the same player after that. Fighting Cooke, who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag, at the beginning of the game wasn’t settling a score. There was still a bill to be paid, and anyone who knows anything about hockey knew it.
Todd Bertuzzi didn't set in motion a chain of events that would end Steve Moore's career. Moore did when he headhunted Naslund. Everyone knows that the players take over as policemen when a star is targeted. You don't want to pay the price? Don't take a cheap shot at a star. Why does that policing take place? Because without a price to pay, it would be open season on star players. It's how the game is kept honest.
Let's put it this way: if it had been Matt Cooke instead of Steve Moore on the end of the Bertuzzi punch, would you feel differently about things?
With his hit on Naslund, Moore pretty much set the table for what was to come. In hockey, you mess with the bull, you get the horns. The Colorado Avalanche’s Claude Lemieux discovered that in 1997, 301 days after running Detroit Red Wing Kris Draper from behind facefirst into the boards. The price was a sucker punch, having his head driven into the ice, having his head kneed into the boards, and Christ knows what else. He deserved it. And despite what you see at the 1:37 mark, he didn’t get up and run to his lawyer.
The above game is today considered one of hockey's greatest matches. Hell, it even has its own Wikipedia page.
Moore was wired to think that the game owed him something, $68 million in fact. How he arrived at this figure is anyone’s guess, given that no 25-year-old rookie is going to make anything close to that for his time in the league. Those who played with him have made statements that he didn’t seems to understand the culture of hockey at all. His former teammate Scott Parker has famously stated "he [Moore] always thought he was better than everybody else. He went to Harvard, you know what, blow me."
Looking back at the whole mess, Moore should have had questions beyond how much money he was going to get for the Bertuzzi punch. What was a fourth-line player with a so-called Canucks “bounty” on his head doing on the ice late in the third period in an 8-2, out-of-control, grudge-match game? And if he was on the ice, what in the hell was he doing out there without Avalanche enforcer Peter Worrell on his wing?
As for the incident, you can be the judge as to whether Bertuzzi's punch was as bad as Marty McSorley clubbing Donald Brashear in the head with a stick.
Or Chris Simon doing his best to separate Ryan Hollweg’s head from his body.
Or Jeff Beukeboom, who never played again after being sucker-punched by Matt Johnson. Ugly? Totally. Things like that happen in hockey. When they do, players don’t get up and run to their lawyers.
And things like the Bertuzzi-Moore incident are going to continue to happen. The most famous moment of this year’s playoffs had Boston Bruin Milan Lucic meeting Montreal Canadien Dale Weise in the handshake lineup after the Bruins lost the series. Lucic, by numerous accounts, told Weise, “I’m going to fucking kill you next year.”
Should he actually make good on that threat, watch for a lawyer to chase the ambulance all the way to the morgue. Thanks to Steve Moore, hockey has just changed, rightly or wrongly. There’s been a precedent set where what happens on the ice now ends up in the court system, with millions paid out for on-ice infractions that have been part of the game since it was played with straight sticks and frozen horse turds.
Grudging respect to him though. Steve Moore didn’t deserve a dime. But he turned the kind of play we see in hockey all the time into a superstar-size paycheque. Not bad for a marginal player with no respect for the unwritten rules of the game.