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NHL pulls linesman out of playoff rotation as rumors swirl about missing Cup-winning puck

Apr 30, 2011, 2:33 AM EDT

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Michael Leighton, Steve Miller AP

While eight teams fight to see who will collect the 2011 Stanley Cup winning goal, the intrigue regarding the whereabouts of last year’s winning puck is heating up.

In case you need a refresher, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane sent an odd-angle shot through Philadelphia Flyers Michael Leighton. The seemingly uncertain nature of the goal meant little to Kane, who was one of the few who realized he just won the Cup. Amid the chaos of that celebration, the championship-winning puck was lost in the shuffle.

The search for a guilty party (and the puck) heats up

Chris Pronger was the first suspect in The Case of the Missing Puck due to past offenses, but it eventually became clear that “The Puck Burglar” was innocent for once. Chicago-based restaurant Harry Caray’s offered a $50,000 reward for the absent piece of rubber. The search reached its most absurd level when Chicago-area FBI agents volunteered their services (off the clock, naturally) to solve this riddle.

Now it seems like one major culprit has emerged: 11-year NHL linesman Steve Miller. As Wayne Drehs of ESPN points out, Philadelphia sports blogger Kyle Scott pieced together a case against Miller for his site Crossing Broad. While Drehs’ Outside the Lines report surfaced on April 20, Miller hasn’t officiated a game since April 17, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Various sources indicate that Miller wasn’t listed among the linesmen who will appear in the league’s second round of games, a strong sign that he’ll be a “healthy scratch” on at least a temporary basis.

The NHL responds

It’s tough to contend with the notion that such a move emboldens the rumor mill, but Drehs shares this quote from the NHL’s senior VP of public relations, Gary Meagher.

“There are lots of questions out there and to have any potential distraction while our playoffs are going on is not fair,” Meagher said.

(snip)

“We’d love to find the answers but I don’t know if we’ll ever get the answers,” he said. “We’re asking the questions. We want to find out. But the bottom line is we just don’t know. And Steve doesn’t know.

“At the end of the day you either believe someone or you don’t believe them. We’ve talked to [Steve] as a league and talked to various people and we stand behind him. He absolutely doesn’t recall getting the puck or doing anything with the puck.”

Drehs also reports that the aforementioned FBI volunteers deemed it a “100 percent certainty” that Miller picked up that puck after watching the video. To be fair to Miller, that doesn’t guarantee that he still possesses the puck or knows where it ended up, even if he did actually snatch it.

Obviously, it’s pretty tough to avoid the suspicion that Miller knows a bit more than he leads on, especially since there’s some evidence that he came into contact with that historic puck. (This post’s main image features Miller, Leighton, that net and that puck, after all.)

Logic behind the oddness

At this point, you might be wondering: is one piece of vulcanized rubber really worth all of this controversy? After all, it became important by means of coincidence more than anything else.

Yet if you have even a vague understanding of the money generated by sports memorabilia – not to mention how much the Hockey Hall of Fame would love to display that puck – the puck’s ceremonial value comes into focus.

This story has been entertaining for most of us, but remains potentially damaging for Miller’s career as an NHL linesman. It’ll be interesting to see if the league reinstates him once the headlines simmer down. After all, if you’re an official during the Stanley Cup finals, chances are high that you’re considered one of the top guys at the job.

We’ll let you know when this wacky little saga twists and turns once again.

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