What have we learned since Bertuzzi-Moore? Not much it seems

Todd Bertuzzi (Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

In the 10-plus years since the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, you can be rest assured that NHL coaches and players have chosen their dressing room words very, very carefully when it comes to the issue of seeking retribution. And there hasn’t been an incident as egregious and disastrous since then, so the culture of revenge no longer exists in hockey, right?

Wrong. It has been speculated that with the civil lawsuit between Moore and Bertuzzi/the Vancouver Canucks finally settled, Moore will receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. But there is so much we will never know. Such as, how was the amount split between Bertuzzi and the Canucks? That would go a long way toward determining whether Bertuzzi acted alone as a friend hell-bent on revenge or was simply a pawn that was contractually obliged to follow the instructions of his superiors.

Even though it went seemingly down to the last minute – the trial was to begin Monday – the reality is probably that this was never going to go to trial. Because if it had, the truth would have had to come out. And it would not have been pretty.

The NHL and its culture of violence/revenge would have been on trial every bit as much as Bertuzzi and the Canucks were. It’s a culture many in hockey would have us believe is no longer a part of the game. Fighting has been trending downward for some time and fewer and fewer teams have space on their rosters for the second coming of Ogie Oglethorpe.

But have we really learned that much from Bertuzzi-Moore? That’s debatable. At the very least, Shawn Thornton seemed to have missed the memo. Last season, in response to what he viewed as a dirty hit on teammate Loui Eriksson, Thornton attacked Brooks Orpik, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in an incident that looked eerily like the Bertuzzi-Moore attack. Thornton received a 15-game suspension for his act, with then director of player safety Brendan Shanahan justifying the ban by saying: “It is our view that this was an act of retribution for an incident that occurred earlier in the game, the result of this action by Thornton was a serious injury to Orpik.”

And did Thornton get ostracized from the game for what he did? Actually, when the Boston Bruins decided not to sign him after last season, the Florida Panthers offered him a two-year contract. As my colleague Adam Proteau pointed out recently, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux calls out the league to get violence out of the game, then allows his team to sign Dan Carcillo and Steve Downie because the Penguins star players get pushed around too much in the playoffs. I’m not sure that makes him a hypocrite. It’s more an indication that Lemieux knows his message is falling on deaf ears, that the league is not going to protect his stars and he has no choice in the matter. (There’s a reason why Carcillo, who is on his sixth NHL team, has the survival instincts of a cockroach. It’s because teams continue to see worth in what he brings.)

And when Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks seemed to push the envelope by getting a little too cute on his fourth goal against the New York Rangers, there were almost as many critics as there were admirers. One of them was Nashville Predators color commentator Terry Crisp, who said, “Let me tell you young man. You pull that move too often and somebody’s going to want retribution on you.”

And how often do we see a player being forced to stand up for himself and face an onslaught of punches after executing a perfectly clean, but devastating hit on a star player? How often do we see teams still “sending a message” to its opponent late in a game that is out of reach? And really it wasn’t that long ago that former director of hockey operations Colin Campbell made his infamous, “We sell hate. Our game sells hate,” comments. How often do we see the league’s own website tag a video as a “Must See” when that video involves fighting and mayhem?

It’s great to see the Bertuzzi-Moore incident finally settled, even though there are a lot of people who would have liked to see this thing go the distance. So, that has been put to bed and confidentiality agreements will likely keep us from ever knowing the minute details of the case. We know Moore will never play in the NHL and Bertuzzi, after reportedly rebuffing a pitch from Mike Keenan to play in the KHL for Mettalurg Magnitigorsk, is a veteran free agent still waiting to find a team. But to suggest the game and the NHL have made enormous strides since then is probably a stretch. A big one.

Jagr on verge of almost unheard of distinction this season

Jaromir Jagr (right). (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.

That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.

When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.

Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.

Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.

With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.

Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.

And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.

Red Army documentary a compelling and riveting film

Ken Campbell
Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov (Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport)

In the final minutes of Red Army, director Gabe Polsky pulls out some footage of Alex Ovechkin’s first season in the NHL. As part of a publicity stunt, Ovechkin is firing pucks at Russian dolls filled with Russian dressing. As the dolls explode and Ovechkin celebrates with glee, former Soviet hockey legend Slava Fetisov opines, “We lost something. We lost our pride. We lost our soul.”

Some will portray Red Army, which makes its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next week and will hit theatres in February, as a clash of cultures. Some will take note of how Russia is back to its adversarial ways in Ukraine and compare it to the Cold War version, one that saw hockey and sports as an extension of the Communist propaganda machine and its best weapon in proving to the world that the ideals of socialism worked.

But more than anything, Red Army is so compelling because it is about the people, the most central character being Fetisov, and how complicated the relationship between hockey and politics is in that country. On one hand, Fetisov speaks of how intrusive and dictatorial the hockey system was under Viktor Tikhonov, then speaks about his country losing its soul when players such as Ovechkin are free to come to North America and chase millions of dollars. (It’s interesting that Ovechkin footage is displayed during Fetisov’s musings about the loss of Russian pride. There might not be an NHL player who is as loyal to and passionate about his country as Ovechkin, who answers the call of duty whenever it is made. In fact, some NHL fans complain Ovechkin cares more about Russia than he does the Washington Capitals.)

It all makes for an incredibly riveting 85 minutes of history and hockey. Seen primarily through the eyes of Fetisov, the greatest defenseman Russia has ever produced and one of the greatest of all-time, Polsky’s film is a study of the progression of the Soviet-Russian game from the 1950s through its deterioration in the 1990s to today. It has incredible footage of early hockey players going through drills under coaching legend Anatoli Tarasov, executing somersaults on the ice in full equipment with Tarasov on his knees in the background saying, “You’ll become great hockey players. And great men.” (The biggest strength of the film is the archival footage, which comes courtesy of Paul Patskou.)

There is film of Tarasov moving chess pawns on a hockey rink diagram – a subtle glimpse of how the players would feel playing later for the dictatorial Tikhonov – and dancing with members of the Bolshoi Ballet. A Red Army recruit from the age of eight, Fetisov talks about his career and the bond he shared with the other members of the Russian Five – defense partner Alexei Kasatonov and forwards Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. One of the most gripping parts of the film comes when Polsky goes through footage of the game between USA and Russia at the 1980 Olympics. At times, Fetisov looks away as though he’s living the nightmare all over again. Other times he appears concerned and despondent. And by the end he has tears in his eyes.

Most of all, the film provides an illustration of the steely resolve the players had, particularly the ones who had to play for Tikhonov. (The former coach, who declined to be interviewed for the film, easily comes off as the biggest villain of the story. Fetisov recounts a time when Andrei Khomoutov was not allowed to leave the compound to visit his dying father. Fetisov’s wife tells of a time her husband, on the verge of playing in the NHL and growing more frustrated with being stonewalled, was captured by police in Kiev, handcuffed to a car battery and beaten until 4 a.m. According to Fetisov’s wife, Tikhonov then showed up and told police to do whatever they wanted, including throwing him in prison, but do not allow him to leave the country.)

Fetisov, it should be remembered, never defected. But he would also not go to the NHL with the government’s blessing if it meant he had to surrender any of his salary to the Soviet Union. Although Fetisov and Larionov, in particular, enjoyed wonderful NHL careers, the feeling is that once the players were separated, they were never the sum of their parts. That is, of course, until Detroit Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman formed his own version of the Russian Five with Fetisov and Larionov joined by Vladimir Konstantinov on defense and Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov at forward.

All in all, Red Army is well worth the time spent. Polsky, the son of Russian immigrants who played collegiate hockey at Yale, has made a movie raw with emotion and truth that totally hits the mark.

Red Army is being shown at the Toronto Film Festival Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 6:00 p.m. at Ryerson and on Wednesday, Sept, 10 at 11:45 a.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

Could Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin pull a Kovalchuk and play in the KHL?

Adam Proteau
Ovechkin Malkin (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Until it happens, the notion of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin departing the NHL in the prime of their careers and returning to their native Russia to play in the KHL should be considered a significant long shot. However, you shouldn’t take that to mean there’s no chance it takes place. As we saw this weekend when Russian president Alexander Medvedev commented cryptically on the possibility of Malkin and Ovechkin playing for a KHL team next season, there are many who would love nothing more than to convince the two superstars to shock the hockey world and head home.

First thing’s first: ultra-sensitive Caps and Penguins fans who read the above paragraph must be reminded to do some deep-breathing relaxation exercises before falling on their backs and squealing as if they’d been kneed in a soft personal place. If Malkin and/or Ovechkin chose to leave hockey’s top league, it wouldn’t be an indictment of their respective franchises or the NHL itself. Rather, they would be moving back to: the warm comforts of their own culture; a Kontinental League that would treat them like Faberge Eggs with legs; and friends and family who are an ocean away for three-quarters of every year. If the shoe were on the other foot and North American players had to ply their trade in Europe each and every season, North American fans would treat any prodigal son as a hero for choosing to leave a more prominent situation to play at home instead.

There’s also a whole lot of tax-free money that would be thrown at Ovechkin and Malkin, but – and this is where your trusty correspondent wishes there was a sarcasm font – we all know these decisions aren’t about money. It wasn’t about money when Ilya Kovalchuk dropped jaws in 2013 by leaving the New Jersey Devils just three years into a 15-year, $100-million contract, right? He just wanted to go home, and no financial payday could keep him in North America. (And make no mistake – anyone who would try to argue people expected Kovalchuk to leave the NHL that quickly after signing a contract extension is as disingenuous as they come.) Read more

Would you pay Teemu Selanne $5 million to just play home games?

Ryan Kennedy
Teemu-Selanne-DD

Finland’s Jokerit club is embarking on a brave new adventure in 2014-15, leaving the Nordic nation’s Liiga in favor of the Russian-based KHL. It’s an odd fit, considering the origins of the Molotov cocktail, but the Helsinki squad is going for it. And according to some Finnish authorities, Jokerit is trying to lure icon Teemu Selanne back into the fold more than two decades after he left for Winnipeg.

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What retirement? Teemu Selanne may sign with Jokerit in KHL

Matt Larkin
Teemu Selanne (Getty Images)

How much has Teemu Selanne driven us wild flirting with retirement over the last decade? Even when he’s “gone,” he may not be really gone.

Finnish team Jokerit has offered the future Hall of Famer, 44, a contract. It would mean playing in his home city of Helsinki and with the Finnish League team that developed him. It would also mean helping Jokerit transition to the Kontinental League, as this coming season the franchise will become the circuit’s first Finnish entry.

Selanne told sports.ru he’s considering the offer from team owner Roman Rotenberg, and that he’ll make a decision in the next three weeks.

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Alex Ovechkin to KHL would be blessing in disguise for Capitals

Adam Proteau
Alex Ovechkin (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

At first blush, the idea of Alex Ovechkin leaving the NHL to go home to his native Russia and play in the Kontinental League seems screwy. Unfortunately, after nine NHL seasons, Ovechkin has failed to live up to expectations – if not as an individual, then certainly as the driver of a team.

His Washington Capitals are awash in mediocrity and have moved from being a bona fide Cup contender to a draft lottery candidate. He won his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy, but had the NHL’s third-worst plus-minus (minus-35). Where once he was the Hockey Elvis, he’s now the King in his unhappy later years, surviving on what he’s always been good at, but never growing as an artist.

So now when you wonder if Ovechkin could actually leave the NHL for the KHL, the question doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. Increasingly, it’s near-fetched. And to this writer, it seems like the best solution for the star and the Capitals. Read more

Arena of KHL’s Ukraine-based Donbass Donetsk looted, set on fire

Donbass Donestk

Back in March, we brought to your attention that the KHL’s only Ukraine-based team, Donbass Donetsk, had to move out of their home rink during a playoff run and play out of Bratislava in Slovakia instead. The area in Donetsk had become too dangerous from the proxy Russian invasion.

Now, it appears Donbass Donetsk may not be able to play out of their home arena next season, if at all.

According to reports, Donbass’ rink was looted of computers, TVs, communication equipment and a car by armed people, and then set on fire. Read more