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There is OBVIOUSLY no conspiracy…right?

April 20, 2010 1 comment
Vancouver Voodoo

Vancouver Voodoo Vexes Smyth and Kings

In the last few days there has been much talk in local hockey circles about there being some sort of bizarre, far-fetched conspiracy involving Gary Bettman and the NHL controlling outcomes of Stanley Cup Playoff games to ensure their preferred teams win games and advance.  As the theory goes, the Vancouver Canucks, and all Canadian-based NHL teams, are NOT among the league’s preferred teams, thus suffering uneven officiating from both the on-ice and off-ice officials.

Now, any objective, logic-thinking observer with a clear mind can clearly see that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY that Gary Bettman and the NHL would ever even entertain the idea of preferring certain teams to succeed over others…yes, yes I KNOW that the league now owns the Phoenix Coyotes and they’re suddenly having their 1st good season in about a decade..but that has more to do with the players trying harder this year than they have the last number of years than anything else.

Now, just to finally put this “Bettman and the NHL hate the Canucks and all Canadian Teams” conspiracy theory to rest, let’s take a look at what is driving these crazy, tin-foil hat wearing Canucks fans to feel so paranoid.

First off, let’s absolve NHL commissioner Gary Bettman of any wrong-doing.  Bettman’s 1st full season as commissioner was the 93-94 campaign…that year saw the Vancouver Canucks make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the 1st time in 12 years against the New York Rangers who hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1940 and who’s home arena is just down the street from the NHL’s head office and represent the largest TV market in the NHL.

Now, those crazy Canucks fans will tell you that they got jobbed in that series…laughable!  The Rangers CLEARLY asserted themselves as the better team taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series…sure, those younger, plucky Canucks, so used to grueling cross-continent travel, were able to win the next 2 games against the tiring, much older Rangers who seldom had to travel out of their time zone and were often at home in their own bed even after most road games.  That’s just a myth…after all Ranger’s captain Mark Messier still had enough energy at the end of game 6 to almost decapitate Canucks captain Trevor Linden with a vicious, cross-check to the head that went un-penalized and garnered no suspension from the league…so you can’t say that the Rangers were more tired than the Canucks and that’s why the league decided to move Game7 back an additional day to give the older Rangers an extra day of rest…ridiculous!  Now onto Game7 of the Stanley Cup finals…sure, the younger Canucks had ALL the momentum heading into that game, but come on did they really think they could match the Rangers after they were able to recuperate with an extra rest day? Come on…let’s be real!  Sure, the Ranger’s got  a 2-man advantage in a close game…but let’s face it…the refs give out 2-man advantages like they’re candy in game7’s right?  The only reason Trevor Linden needed to score short-handed to keep his team in it was because they were killing penalties for half the game…and sure there was a rumour going around that Bettman felt it would be better for the NHL if the New York rangers won the cup….you see where I’m going with this? Its just simply tin-foil hat stuff.

I mean, just because 8 of the 10 Stanley Cup winners, before Bettman’s 1st full year were from Canada and there has been ZERO since, is no reason to think that there is a conspiracy at play here….it is simply another coincidence people, nothing more.

Canucks fans also point to last year’s playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks claiming that the Hawks were favoured because they were a large TV market that was trying to re-establish itself as a competitive team for the 1st time in many years after playing in front of nearly empty arenas…HAH!  Why would the league want them to succeed just because of that?  Sure, 90% of the Blackhawks’ goals were scored with at least one of their forwards sitting on Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo’s lap in the back of the net…but come-on you can’t expect the refs to do anything about that can you?  A good goal-tender would still be able to make those saves…

Of course this is the same, tired excuse those silly Canucks fans are using this year.  This time substitute the upstart LA Kings…sure, they’re the second largest TV market in the States and they haven’t made the playoffs in 8 years…that doesn’t mean anything…its not like some playoff success would help turn-on those long-gone, fickle LA fans and potentially revitalize a US TV market.  I mean iffy, too-many men on the ice penalties are ALWAYS called against the home team in overtime of a playoff game, right?  right?  And just because the Canucks scored a goal that was disallowed because the puck was ‘propelled into the net by not a distinct kicking motion but a kicking motion’ by the player who wasn’t looking at the puck but was, somehow, able to ‘twist his toe’ at the puck thus propelling it intentionally into the net…or something like that…the rule is so convoluted that it can be interpreted any which way the league prefers it…wait…league preferences?  NAHHHH!!!! Just a coincidence…another in a long list of coincidences…

I bet those paranoid Canucks fans are wishing one, just ONE, of those coincidences would go their way…who knows?  Maybe they’ll win the Stanley Cup the year after Bettman retires or is fired!  …  Now THAT would be a coincidence.  Yeah..that and maybe bitter referee Stephane Auger and Alex Burrows will go for beers, and Colin Campbell and Mike Murphy will suddenly feel the need to go on CBC to explain and justify it as simply Burrows showing Auger an example of a distinct kicking motion.

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Stripes Offside on This One

I have tried to stay out of this one.  I didn’t plan to be writing a blog about this Burrows/Auger controversy but it just won’t go away.

For those who have been living in a cave here is a recap of what has been going on:

On January 11th at GMPlace, the Vancouver Canucks played host to their conference rival Nashville Predators with whom they are competing for a playoff spot in a vital “4-point game”.  Prior to the game, video evidence shows Stephane Auger pulling Vancouver Canuck Alex Burrows aside for a 31-second conversation.  Now, I have seen refs talk to players briefly during the play before a faceoff, after a penalty, or even after a disputed goal….I don’t ever recall seeing a ref talk to a player for such a long time before the game even starts.

The game would proceed with multiple penalty calls to both teams and play was quite even until late in the game.  With the game tied 2-2 in the third period Alex Burrows is called for unsportsmanlike conduct (or diving) and assessed a 2-minute penalty by referee Stephan Auger on a play that looked like a legitimate trip.   Then, with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd period of a tied game with the Canucks on a power play, Auger strikes again calling Burrows on an extremely dubious interference call…so dubious in fact, it is safe to say that only Stephan Auger thought it was a penalty…he probably should have called it 2 minutes for wearing 14 blue (Burrows’ number and jersey colour).  Everyone in the building was dumb-founded.  Watching on TV I was bewildered as to why Auger would call this penalty and was wondering how much he had bet on the Predators.  Everyone seemed confused.  Everyone except Burrows that is.

You see, Alex Burrows knew why Stephane Auger had singled him out with a penalty that wasn’t a penalty late in a tie game.  He knew why Auger seemed out to get him because, before the game, Auger told him he was going to get him.  You see, in a previous game Alex Burrows had embarrased Stephane Auger by embellishing a hit from behind resulting in a 5 minute major.  So, Auger figured he would get back at Burrows by embarassing himself again and calling a penalty that wasn’t a penalty to try to screw Burrows… and his team…and the fans…and the, to that point, unquestionable integrity of the NHL’s officials…and, yes, the game of hockey itself.

This vindictive and disgusting debacle of a penalty call, coupled with a subsequent dubious penalty call against the Canucks, cost them at least 1 crucial point in the standings and up to a 4 point swing in the standings against a team they are jockeying with for a playoff spot.  The Predators did score on the ensuing power play to take the lead with only a few minutes to play.

After the game, an irate Alex Burrows, who managed to wait til the game was almost over (3 seconds left) to voice his displeasure to Auger resulting in another misconduct penalty, could not restrain his disgust and, unprecedently, spoke to the media about the incident.  He described how Auger had singled him out before the game and told him that he was going to get him, and how he did a wonderful job staying true to his word, punishing the Canucks late in the game.  Auger allegedly even went as far as winking at Burrows after one of his phantom calls.

As Sporting Vancouver predicted on Twitter, Alex Burrows was fined by the league while referee Stephan Auger received no discipline.  The league quickly buried the issue, down-playing the incident as well as they could.  They claimed that they had investigated the incident and found no impropriety on Auger’s part…it sure didn’t take them long.  Did they even bother investigating it?  Do they not think this is important?  If there is any question at all as to wether or not the league referee’s are calling a game based on anything other than the rules…if there is any doubt as to their motivation shouldn’t an extensive investigation take place?  You would think so….but, you see, this is Bettman’s NHL.  An NHL that never admits wrongdoing no matter how many non-traditional hockey market teams fail, no matter how many times they crap the bed on league discipline, and, now, no matter how many dirty refs there are in the league.

After seeing this head-in-the-sand routine by the NHL on this issue, it leaves your humble blogger to wonder “what would stop a referee from mortgaging his house, betting all the money on a game he is officiating, and making sure the team he betted on won the game”?  Not the NHL.  Not Gary Bettman.  Not Colin Campbell.  Apparently, they are positively sure that there was absolutely no chance of any impropriety by Stephane Auger after their extensive one (1) day investigation in which the only person interviewed on the matter was….Stephane Auger.  Might as well write the referees a blank cheque…I think I might sign up for reffing in the NHL….I could make MILLIONS in hockey bets.  Wait a minute….bet…Bettman….bet…Bettman…