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Mike Murphy consulted with Brian Burke before issuing Rome’s 4-game suspension

Jun 7, 2011, 10:23 PM EDT

Brian Burke AP

Over the last 24 hours, plenty has been made of Aaron Rome’s devastating hit that sent Boston Bruins’ forward Nathan Horton to the hospital with a “severe concussion.” There were those who said Horton should have been skating with his head up and there were plenty more who thought this was a cheap shot on the NHL’s biggest stage. Regardless, all fans looked to the league’s disciplinarian to see how they’d react to such a devastating hit that crossed the line of legality. The answer was harsh and swift: 4-game suspension and a seat in the press box for the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Mike Murphy was asked plenty of questions about the 4-game suspension to Aaron Rome. One of the more interesting questions posed at the press conference was if there was some kind of formula when suspending players in the regular season vs. postseason.

Murphy’s response:

I wish there was a number (equating playoff games to regular season games). 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. I don’t like to mention people who I deal with. He was one gentleman who I did speak with.”

This seems like a well thought out way to deal with a difficult situation, right? Murphy’s only in charge of this series because Colin Campbell can’t rule on games involving his son Gregory; next season Brendan Shanahan is taking over the reigns as it is. Murphy is a placeholder. He wanted to get it right, so he asked someone who used to hold the position. He used a valuable resource that was at his disposal.

Unfortunately, there’s much more just beneath the surface to this story. His honest answer certainly caught the attention of the Canucks, not because they are upset with the length of the suspension (which they are), but because of the resource Murphy consulted. You see, Brian Burke isn’t as far removed from the situation as one may think.

Matthew Sekeres from The Globe and Mail gives us a quick history lesson:

“Burke’s contract with the Canucks was not renewed after the 2003-04 season, and he is friends with Aquilini business rivals who unsuccessfully sued the Canucks chairman in 2005.

In 2009, the Canucks filed tampering charges with the NHL after Burke and Leafs coach Ron Wilson made public comments about Canucks players. The league fined the Leafs in October 2009, based on Wilson’s remarks that his team was interested in the Sedin twins, who were approaching free agency that summer. Burke later admitted that he regretted mentioning the players by name.”

From a Canucks’ perspective, here’s what they see: the NHL just handed down a stiff suspension (that they don’t agree with) and came to their judgment by asking one of their former employees that they’ve had continuing problems with. Losing Rome means their defensive corps takes another shot, days after learning that Dan Hamhuis won’t return for the rest of the series. No matter where you’re rooting interests lie, it doesn’t look good.

Repeatedly, the NHL has encountered claims that there are conflicts of interest at the league level. One of the reasons Colin Campbell recently stepped down from this very job is because he has a son in the league. This probably isn’t the kind of scene they wanted to start the post-Campbell era—yet another controversy with yet another conflict of interest.

To be clear, there’s no reason to think that Mike Murphy wouldn’t have come up with the same judgment without consulting with Brian Burke. The majority of people seem to think the suspension is more than they thought it would be—but they agree that it was a good message to send to get this type of hit out of the game. People are surprised, but the majority of people outside of Vancouver aren’t upset with the ruling. It’s an important difference to make.

Rome didn’t get a 4-game suspension because Mike Murphy talked to Brian Burke. He got the suspension because he hit Nathan Horton with a late cheap shot that the NHL has been trying to get rid of the game all season.

  1. habsman - Jun 8, 2011 at 1:46 AM

    You forgot to mention that Brian Burke is from Boston.

    And Colin Campbell should never have been the discipline sherriff as long as his son Gregory (Playoff MVP) is in the league. And don’t give me that crap that he recused himself with issues involving the Bruins. Anyone who thinks he didn’t have influence in the decisions is living in a dream world. Mike Murphy was hired by Campbell, and he did what his boss wanted.

    There have been several incidents over the past few months involving the Bruins that have gone unpunished. That’s not just me talking, it’s players around the league (Thornton, MacArthur, etc) who have wondered alloud about the lack of discipline handed out.

    Conspiracy theory? Maybe, maybe not. But you have to admit that the timing of Campbell calling it quits as discipline czar two weeks before the end of the season is peculiar.

    btw, Horton had it coming. But not to the extent of the injuries he recieved. Hope he feels better soon.

  2. warpstonebc - Jun 8, 2011 at 2:07 AM

    Rome needs to appeal if only to further shine light on how badly the NHL HQ decision making does not pass the smell test.

    Name another major league that could get away with so much blatant conflict of interest? Heck, this is probably why no one really considers the NHL a major league anyway.

    It’s just so brutal to do give fans this “quality” of decision-making and leadership.

    Bush Hockey League.

    • hystoracle - Jun 8, 2011 at 2:06 PM

      I think he does appeal and gets a reduced sentence if AND ONLY IF this series doesn’t go 7 games. I think he is basically out for the remainder of the Finals. At least that appears to be the objective – to make all this crap go away for the league.

      The inconsistency in the discipline is eventually going to tick off the NHLPA and then the league will have a bigger problem. Angry employees. I’m surprised the NHLPA hasn’t already grumbled about the wishy-washy nature of the suspensions and fines have been handed out or not handed out. It’s like the league officials rule depending on what color underwear they put on that morning.

      • warpstonebc - Jun 8, 2011 at 2:30 PM

        Good point re: NHLPA. Though they have always been in a weird position in terms of picking sides on a union member on union member crime.

        At the very least though you hope Don Fehr presses the league office to codify it’s expectations so that the NHLPA can get players on the same page about what they can or cannot defend them for.

        But I don’t think we’re going there. Murphy also said that he’s instucted finger waving to receive a 2 min minor + 10 min misconduct for this series.

        Talk about being micromanaged to absurdity.

  3. Chris Ross - Jun 8, 2011 at 2:17 AM

    Yeah, cuz Brian Burke is really going to give an objective opinion about his former city. It is definitely hard to see a guy get so severely hurt and luckily he is not paralyzed but I think we are overreacting to this one. If Horton gets up then it’s a 2 minute interference penalty and no one is talking about this right now. The recent Buster Posey incident is somewhat the same. This wasn’t legal because it was a late hate, unlike the Posey incident, but the concept is similar. I just don’t think the hit is quite as bad as so many people seem to be making it out to be. The NHL has seen far worse hits that haven’t warranted in any suspension so I’m confused yet again.

  4. demons87 - Jun 8, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    First off, all sports are incestuous. Everyone knows everyone else and has some biases. If you can find someone who doesn’t have a bias they haven’t been around the game. Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner ruled on spygate costing the Patriots a 1st round pick and the team 750K. He used to work for the Jets, the Pats top rival. So the NHL isn’t alone.

    According to his post he asked him how he valued playoff suspensions vs regular season because Burke had done it before. The only other person with that kind of recent experience is Colin Campbell.

    This was right decision. Had he come back in this series, there was a real possiblity the game would have denigrated into something that would be really bad press for the NHL. Like it or not, this is big money time for the league and to have their name dragged through the mud because of another ugly incident would be damaging.

    What is really sad is Vancouver trying to make Rome out to be the victim. Poor Rome has to sit in the pressbox and watch the games. He’s going to feel really bad sitting there. Horton is lucky to be feeling anything.

  5. cannonblast14 - Jun 8, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    Does everyone forget Burke drafted Sedins. Why would he want to do anything against them. Put the conspiracty thoughts away, its bogus.

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