Sometimes it's hard to get over being screwed big time, especially when hockey insiders like Brian Burke are on hand to let you know just how badly.
If you blinked (or hit the fridge for a fifth Red Truck Mexican Lager) during Monday's Game 7 between the St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars, you missed something revelatory in Hockey Night in Canada's "To the Point" segment. And, no, it wasn't that Brad Marchand remains the NHL's number-one shitstain for the game's purists.
What was fascinating was Burke's breakdown of a Charlie McAvoy hit on Josh Anderson in Game 6 of the Boston Bruins–Columbus Blue Jackets series. For those who missed it, McAvoy launched himself upward to drive his shoulder into Anderson's head late in the second period, receiving nothing more than a two-minute penalty from famously clueless referee Kelly Sutherland.
In the opinion of hockey fans with semifunctioning eyeballs, that call was blown big-time, which explained the NHL stepping in with supplemental discipline. McAvoy was subsequently assessed a one-game suspension, which many felt was just the latest bit of irrefutable evidence that the NHL has its head wedged firmly up its ass when it comes to dealing with headshots.
Burke, who in the '90s served as director of hockey operations with the NHL, argued that the league got it right. And, in doing so, he gave Vancouver Canucks fans reason to get outraged all over again about the way their team was rogered by the NHL in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
In the clip above, Burke explains that there's a system, which he helped draw up, and which is still used today, for suspensions handed out in the playoffs. By the time things have progressed to the third round and the Stanley Cup Final, a one-game suspension is equal to roughly eight or 10 regular-season games.
So while many feel that McAvoy got off lightly with one game for the Anderson hit, he was in fact dinged for the regular-season equivalent of eight to 10 games.
Burke then showed two completely egregious and indefensible hits by two of the dirtiest players in the history of the NHL playoffs. One of them—Claude Lemieux driving Kris Draper into the boards face-first in a Round 3 game between the Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings in 1996—was deemed worthy of two games. Which, Burke pointed out, was actually the equivalent of a 16-to-20-game regular-season suspension.
At the risk of getting off-topic for a second, the Lemieux hit on Draper was so bad, it eventually led to one of the greatest revenge-games ever played in the NHL. (Depending on who you talk to, said game is referred to today as “Bloody Wednesday,” “The Brawl at Hockeytown” and/or “Fight Night at the Joe.” In his autobiography My Last Fight: The True Story of a Hockey Rock Star, McCarty writes "During my career, there were other times when I wanted to pound the shit out of an opponent, but I’d never wanted to hurt anyone as much as I wanted to hurt Lemieux."
Here's the footage of the revenge game. Which is all the proof you need that the two playoff games given enough might have been enough for the NHL, but it wasn't for the Wings, who got even big time when the teams met the next season. Yes there was blood spilled, and it was beautiful.
Back to Burke's To the Point segment, his other suspension example was Anaheim Mighty Ducks repeat offender Chris Pronger getting one game in the final for flagrantly throwing an elbow at the head of Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond.
And what does all of this have to do with Vancouver's Stanley Cup loss in 2011, you might ask?
Not to trigger your ongoing PTSD over the event, but recall, if you will, Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome hitting Boston forward Nathan Horton at the blue line in Game 3. Rome—in a game refereed by the immortal Kelly Sutherland—was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Horton was concussed and did not play the rest of the series. It's generally accepted that Boston, which was down 2-0 in the series at that point, used the hit as a rallying point, eventually taking the Cup Final four games to three.
As hits go, no one's arguing that it wasn't late. And only the most homer-ish of Canucks fans would argue that Rome didn't deserve a suspension, precedent suggesting maybe something along the lines of what Pronger got.
Instead, the NHL threw the book and the bookcase at Rome, despite his having no history of suspensions. He was given a four-game suspension for a second-late hit that was nowhere near as nasty as Pronger's or Lemieux's. Or as optically bad as McAvoy's targeting the head of Anderson, who was at the time considered in a vulnerable position.
Or as bad as this from Pronger's long rap sheet, which led to, again, a one-game suspension (or eight games) in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final in 2007. That's right, one for a deliberate and unrepentently brutal attempt to injure Detroit Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom.
In making its ruling on Rome vs. Horton, the NHL's Mike Murphy noted that while there was some head contact, the main problem with the Rome hit was that it was "close to a second late". And that Horton was injured.
"We have our own formula at NHL Hockey Operations for determining late hits, and it was late," Murphy said at the time. "We saw the seriousness of the injury with Nathan on the ice last night. That's basically what we deliberated on. We tried to compare it with some of the other ones in the past. But it stands alone. It's why we made the ruling."
A ruling, he told sbnation.com, that wasn't because Rome targeted Horton's head.
It was the "lateness combined with the injury," he said.
This was the first multigame suspension in the history of the Stanley Cup Final. It remains the longest suspension ever handed out in a Stanley Cup Final. And using the formula that Burke outlined on Monday, it means that the NHL chose to suspend Rome for the equivalent of 40 regular-season games. (We're rounding up, as we're talking the final round rather than Round 3.)
No other player in NHL history has ever received more than a one-game suspension in the final, pre- or post-Rome.
Rome got a mind-boggling half a season even though he had no history of crossing the line. And, lest one forget, the decision came from an NHL headquarters where the head of discipline, right up up until the final got under way, was Colin Campbell, who decided to step down from the position only at the 11th hour because his son Gregory Campbell played for the Boston Bruins.
The Canucks ended up so depleted on defence that a 21-year-old rookie named Chris Tanev was eventually forced into service.
In case you are curious, the length of the Rome suspension remains second only to one served to San Jose Shark Raffi Torres for a 2015 regular-season hit on Jakob Silfverberg. Torres had previously been suspended four times, and the general consensus was that something drastic had to be done before he killed someone.
A repeat and dangerous offender, Torres was given 41 games for the above hit. One more than Rome's equivalent, using Burke's formula. A formula the NHL has kept secret for years.
Even Murphy refused to divulge the formula he was using in the sbnation.com interview.
"My number is four," he argued. "It is what it is. It stands alone."
Based on information provided by Burke Monday, Murphy wasn't totally telling the truth in the exchange:
Q. Is there a formula equating playoff games to regular-season games?
MIKE MURPHY: Yes. It's more severe.
Q. Is there a number?
MIKE MURPHY: No. I wish there was a number. There's not. You have to feel that. I know in the past when we had a playoff suspension, I remember the Pronger elbow going back, the Lemieux hit going on, that was two, Pronger was one. I spoke to the gentleman who issued the two. Wanted his formula, talked to him about it. I'm talking about Brian Burke."
After Torres, the next-longest suspension in NHL history is to repeat offender Chris Simon of the New York Islanders, who got 30 games for intentionally stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jarkko Ruutu with his skate.
Eight years after Rome's suspension, the NHL talks endlessly about stopping hits to the head. Which explains why, having set a precedent with Rome's hit and his 40-game-equivalent suspension, Charlie McAvoy just got 10 games for a far worse hit.
If recent history has taught as anything, it's that it's good to be wearing a Boston Bruins jersey in the playoffs. (Ask then Bruins defender Johnny Boychuck, who got no games for driving Canuck Mason Raymond into the boards and breaking his back in the 2011 final.)
Vancouver, on the other hand, is a franchise that exists to get screwed by the NHL, never more heinously so than in 2011. Don't even get us started on all the shit that was missed and not called in the games after the Rome hit, when it became open season on anyone wearing a pair of ice skates, especially if the name on the back of the jersey was Sedin. For a Coles Notes version, go here. Or here.
At this point, you're probably sitting there thinking that Vancouver Canucks fans have made a cottage industry out of arguing that the team is regularly screwed by the NHL. West Coasters have been doing it for decades, from Roger Neilson waving the white towel in the '80s to Todd Bertuzzi's suspension derailing the West Coast Express once and for all in the '00s.
This time, however, we've got proof the NHL gave the Canucks a Grade-A, lube-free rogering in 2011. Brian Burke confirmed that Monday, even if he didn't mean to.