Aaron Rome was suspended four games by the NHL for his hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON – From this corner, it’s impossible to argue about the length of the suspension handed down to Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks. NHL vice-president Mike Murphy, who handled the case, simply knocked it out of the park when he meted out the longest sentence in the history of the Stanley Cup final.
Four games in the Stanley Cup final is the equivalent of eight to 10 games in the regular season. That made it easily the longest suspension in a long while for a reckless play/hit to the head. (Is it fair that Rome is kicked out of the final after missing time during the Western Conference final when his head was rammed into the boards on a blatant hit from behind? No. But neither is it fair the Bruins lose their first line right winger while the Canucks lose a depth defenseman who can be easily replaced.)
Some will see this suspension as a portent of things to come from the NHL, but the reality is that if there was any doubt the NHL absolutely needs some sort of standard for supplementary discipline, it was completely put to rest when Murphy came down with his sentence.
In his media conference Tuesday afternoon, Murphy made it clear the decision on both the guilty verdict and the suspension was his and his alone. When Colin Campbell stepped down last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there would be a harsher approach taken to discipline, but Murphy said that standard was not applied in the Rome case. Murphy could not have been clearer this was his baby and he ran with it.
So what has the NHL actually accomplished here? Well, not much if you’re talking about setting a precedent. That’s because there was no precedent set here. The four games Rome received for knocking Nathan Horton senseless - Horton apparently believed he was in Vancouver after the hit - was the decision of one man. Murphy received input from others in the NHL’s hockey operations department, but it was all his call.
“This is my standard,” Murphy said. “I have to look at myself and make sure I’m doing the right thing because I know the severity of what we’ve just done here. I’ve learned a lot from Colin Campbell. I’ve learned some of it from talking with Brian Burke over the years when we’ve had issues to deal with. But this was mine.”
If that’s the case, Murphy should have been doing this job five years ago. His intolerance for this kind of recklessness is admirable and perhaps the league wouldn’t be in the mess it is today when it comes to head shots had someone with Murphy’s feelings on the issue been in charge of discipline. But the fact the standard changed in less than a week and might very well change again next season when Brendan Shanahan takes over the job reveals a major flaw in the way these things are handled.
What if Shanahan sees that kind of hit next year as the ubiquitous “hockey play?” To be sure, he wouldn’t be the only one. There were a number of hockey people who saw nothing wrong with Rome’s hit and Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he felt it was, “not the right call,” and Rome’s hit was only, “a tad late.” And what if Shanahan decides next season this kind of hit deserves nothing more than a one- or two-game suspension? What if he thinks the fact the player was injured on the play should have nothing to do with the length of the suspension?
Then we’re no further than we were before Murphy’s ruling. Not having any guidelines for minimum punishment when it comes to suspensions is a ridiculous notion that throws the entire discipline system into question every time something like this happens. That won’t change with a new regime, so when Murphy insists, “without question” the NHL is taking a more serious attitude toward discipline, he’s not really speaking to the issue with any sense of authority.
That’s because he won’t be the guy making the decisions next season. And judging by the way he handled this one, that’s a shame.
Another reason to like the job Murphy is doing in this series: when asked about all the antics that have marred the series so far, he responded by saying, “I will be speaking with both general managers and coaches before the day’s over about what we are seeing, the garbage that is going on.”
Amen to that.
The Bruins have a tradition of presenting a god-awful looking jacket to the hero of the game after every win and it went to Horton after Game 3. Actually, it stayed with Horton because he received it for scoring the only goal of the game in Boston’s 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
But it was a touching tribute to their fallen teammate.
“It was his and he was holding onto it and it was his job to give it away to the next guy,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, “and obviously he wasn’t there to do it. I’m sure he’ll be back around the room next game.”
When Murphy explained his thinking behind the Rome suspension, he mentioned he has consulted Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke on discipline issues in the past. That led some to leap to the ridiculous notion that Burke had some input on the Rome suspension.
Murphy sought Burke’s input when he was trying to come up with a formula for equating Stanley Cup final games to regular season games. Nothing more.
It likely wasn’t a great idea for Murphy to do that, or at least tell people he did, but any notion Burke had anything to do with the suspension is silly.
Well, we know at least one of the other 24 coaches not involved in the Stanley Cup final isn’t a big fan of the NHL’s head office.
“I had a coach call me this morning to tell me, ‘Focus on the things that are within your control,’ and, ‘They’re making it up as they go along,’ ” Vigneault said. “I don’t feel that way. I think these guys are trying to do the best job they can in very challenging circumstances.”
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference had some sympathy for Rome, saying the hit on Horton doesn’t make him a bad person. Murphy said Rome was “apologetic and contrite.” Rome made a statement of his own expressing regret and Vigneault said the defenseman was too upset to speak about it.
“I don’t think he could talk to you right now,” Vigneault said. “He’s very emotional. He’s very disappointed. He’s been taken out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A couple of weeks ago, he was almost taken out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by another player in a situation that, in my mind, my opinion, was far worse.”
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