TORONTO - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman didn't just make Dean Lombardi pay dearly for his comments about league vice-president Mike Murphy. He also made it very clear that he won't tolerate criticism of the league's caretakers.
"There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for commentary challenging the integrity of the league's hockey operations department in general or Mike Murphy, in particular," Bettman said Friday in a release after slapping Lombardi with a US$50,000 fine.
"People can disagree with a call by an official on the ice or an official in the situation room in Toronto, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Lombardi did."
Upset that a disputed goal was allowed to stand in a 2-0 loss to Phoenix on Thursday, Lombardi told a reporter who works for the team's website that Murphy wouldn't give the Kings a favourable call because he once lost out on the GM job in Los Angeles.
By Friday morning, Lombardi knew he'd made a mistake and phoned Murphy to offer a personal apology. The Kings GM later received an earful from Bettman.
"I spoke to the commissioner today and he made it very clear to me that my actions last night were inappropriate and detrimental to the game," said Lombardi. "There is no question that his assessment is correct and the punishment fits the crime. Just as important, I apologized to Mike Murphy this morning and I sincerely appreciate his willingness to accept my apology.
"Like the team must learn from its mistakes, the GM has to learn from his mistakes as well."
In the past, the NHL has sometimes chosen to handle discipline issues quietly, but that was never an option here. In an interview on Friday afternoon, Bettman promised to make a statement—"We'll announce what we've done"—and he delivered.
"Mike Murphy is a devoted caretaker of the game," said Bettman. "His commitment to the National Hockey League, all 30 of its clubs—and to the game—is beyond challenge, question or debate."
It's the second time a high-ranking member of the league's hockey operations staff has had his integrity questioned this season. Colin Campbell, who heads the department, was involved in a scandal back in November after some of his emails were published on a blog.
In the three-year-old messages, which were made public through a wrongful dismissal case involving a former NHL referee, Campbell asked the league's former director of officiating about penalties called against his son Gregory.
Murphy played for the Kings during his NHL career and is a former coach of the team. His current job with the league involves working in the Toronto-based video room and making the final call on goal reviews.
He was on the job and in the hot seat Thursday night. Replays of the disputed goal appear to show the puck being high-sticked into the net by Martin Hanzal, but Murphy chose not to overturn referee Justin St. Pierre's call after reviewing the tape available to him.
The Kings were also upset earlier in the season when Ryan Smyth appeared to score a game-tying in goal in Ottawa on Nov. 22, only to have it not count. In that case, the league's video room decided not to overturn the call on the ice.
The combination of those two events seem to have set Lombardi off.
"When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the GM's job in L.A. and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls," Lombardi told the Kings website after Thursday's loss. "However, we have put ourselves in a position where these calls have a monumental effect on our season, and we're going to have to find a way out of it ourselves."
Interestingly, some fans of the Vancouver Canucks accused Murphy of being biased in the Kings favour during last year's playoffs after he disallowed an apparent goal by Daniel Sedin in Game 3 of that series. Fans dug up an old interview with the Kings website where Murphy said "it would be so neat to see the Kings succeed and win a Stanley Cup."
Entering play Friday, Los Angeles sat 12th in the Western Conference.