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Tough times

Reports that then-Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford sent Todd Bertuzzi out on the ice to "get" Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore in a game on March 8, 2004 have yet to be proven in court, but just the fact that they have surfaced will confirm what many have long believed.

Whispers from players who were on the bench when Bertuzzi went out and hit Moore from behind, supposedly as revenge for a hit Moore made on Bertuzzi's teammate Markus Naslund in a previous game, have been circulating for years.

According to a document filed in the upcoming court case and obtained by CBC News in Canada, Bertuzzi made the charge against Crawford in a pre-trial deposition. The report does not state that Crawford singled out Bertuzzi by name -- Crawford allegedly said that Moore had to "pay the price" -- but the fact that Bertuzzi made the charge will put Crawford and the NHL on trial. That's surely something that the NHL fears and the Moore camp has been trying to do it since the incident happened.

The impact of that charge will be a problem for the NHL, which has stated repeatedly that these types of violent actions are "not part of the game." That insistence is likely to be challenged during the trial, especially given the fact that the league warned Crawford and the Canucks against retaliation prior to the incident and fined the team $250,000 afterward, a clear indication that the NHL felt that Crawford and his organization were at least partially at fault.

That's a key issue in the case. Bertuzzi has filed a claim asking that if damages are awarded to Moore, the Canucks should pay them. The Canucks have filed a similar claim against Bertuzzi, who is now a winger for the Ducks, a team managed by Brian Burke who was Vancouver's GM at the time of the attack. The Canucks, of course, are arguing that Bertuzzi should pay the damages.

A secondary problem for the Canucks is that current GM Dave Nonis, under oath, made a statement that appears to corroborate Bertuzzi's claim about Crawford ordering a hit on Moore. Nonis was the assistant GM of the Canucks at the time of the attack. If his statement is true, it would appear to contradict the sworn testimony of several Canucks who were interviewed by police shortly after the incident and claimed that nothing was said during the between-periods intermission in question.

NHLPA joins the fray

In light of the Bertuzzi-Moore developments, it should come as no surprise that NHL bosses have taken a dim view of the Philadelphia Flyers and their Back to the Future approach to old-time hockey. When you pick up five player suspensions totaling 52 games in just 25 outings, as the reconstituted Broad Street Bullies have done, people at the highest levels of the game are bound to notice.

What comes as a shock to long-time observers, however, is that the NHL Players' Association now wants to get involved, and not necessarily to fight off the suspensions handed down by Colin Campbell, the NHL's Director of Hockey Operations, as well as the perceived threat of additional bans that were hinted at by Commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly.

Paul Kelly, who barely has found a chair that fits him as the NHLPA's new executive director said recently that he's "concerned" about the number of suspensions the Flyers have been given since the start of the season and that not only should the league take a tougher stance, but that his organization should "have a voice in the process."

Given that he's not dead, it would be wrong to say that former NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow is spinning in his grave over that one, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that Kelly's statement made his head turn. Criticism of Goodenow within and outside the PA often centered on how he handled on-ice or player-on-player violence. The perception (Goodenow argued it was unfair) was that the PA was quick to come to the defense of any perpetrator, but did next to nothing to protect the health, safety and long-term welfare of the player who was unduly or unfairly assaulted.

That wasn't always the case. Goodenow believed that since the league was handing out the suspensions, it was incumbent upon the PA to monitor the hearings in order to ensure that the dictates of the collective bargaining agreement were followed. Essentially, the PA was there to protect the process.

Technically, it was a reasonable argument, but the offshoot was that it often appeared that the PA did little, sometimes nothing, to protect the well-being of the victimized player. The poster child was Colorado's Steve Moore, who was severely injured as the result of an assault by then Vancouver forward Todd Bertuzzi in 2004. The PA fought hard to defend Bertuzzi's rights under the CBA. It was accused of doing considerably less for the health and financial well- being of Moore, who not only suffered a fractured neck, but has never returned to NHL ice and likely never will.

Kelly, recently elected to replace the ousted Ted Saskin, who replaced Goodenow under the most mysterious of circumstances, rocked both worlds with his approach.

"It does concern me that a number of these instances have involved the same franchise [Philadelphia]," he said. " Whether that's coincidence, whether that's culture, whether that's coaching, I don't know. But that's a concern and it's something that I think both the league and the association need to pay attention to as to why that's happening."

Kelly went on to say that he was "critical" of the Randy Jones hit (Jones delivered a serve blow to the head of Boston's Patrice Bergeron that resulted in a long-term concussion) and that "people who think the players' association is always going to advocate less discipline, I think that they're kind of mistaken because we represent both the victim and the aggressor. I think, frankly, we ought to have a voice in this process. It ought to happen before the discipline is imposed, and I'm not so sure in every instance we're going to be the ones advocating less of a suspension."

Two things need to be noted here. One: Kelly, a former prosecuting and defense attorney who knows both the meaning and value of words, chose "victim" and put it ahead of "aggressor". Two: It might well be presumed the PA could argue for supplemental discipline to be used as a more effective deterrent than the usual wrist-slap. Kelly's being "critical" of the Jones hit can easily be taken to mean he's not happy with the fact that Jones was suspended a mere two games while Bergeron may out for the remainder of the season, not to mention the impact on how well he plays should he be able to return.

That's a sea change in approach. It makes Kelly a new boss who appears to be a great deal different than the old bosses.

Players get tough on crime

Another change that has caught the eyes and ears of the " let 'em play" brigade is the number of players speaking out on the subject. For decades, NHLers have been among the least vocal about safety issues in their sport. However, several have uttered the words "lifetime ban" after Flyers forward Steve Downie, at the time not yet an NHL regular, went head-hunting through the Ottawa Senators ranks during a preseason game. Downie received (by NHL standards) a shocking 20-game suspension and ironically returned to the lineup in time to take the place of Philadelphia's most recently suspended thug, Riley Cote.

More recently, Chris Higgins of the Canadiens used the occasion of an appearance at a Montreal children's hospital to reference the hit on Bergeron and say that the players need to share in the responsibility of being careful.

"You could do devastating damage to someone and his career," Higgins said.

That's a major step for an NHL player, many of whom have been intimidated by coaches, management and even certain media personalities against speaking out about injuries.

"Coaches used to blow off such (head) injuries," Higgins said. "Well, that culture has to change. Don't play through the pain. It ties into respect, so children don't play injured when they grow up."

Trouble still stalking Predators

Despite a blessing from the NHL Board of Governors, the sale of the Nashville Predators has still not closed and may have some problems ahead.

Sources tell SI.com that Craig Leipold, the owner attempting to sell, is still attempting to help a local group front the sale. In addition, the prospective buyers have yet to finalize a new lease with the city and the Sports Authority for the use of the Sommet Center and the conditions for keeping the lease intact. That may impact financing, as banks have held back a part of the funding while waiting for a lease agreement approved by Nashville's mayor and the Metro Council. The SPorts Authority has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, but the lease issue is not on the agenda.

Around the Boards

Through Wednesday, San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov was the only goalie in the league to have started all of his team's games this season ... Teammate Joe Thornton has figured in the scoring of 10 of his team's last 11 goals, including a spectacular blind pass to Patrick Marleau that led to a tally against Dallas and comparisons to Wayne Gretzky's pinpoint passing ... Montreal's Andrei Markov is still atop the voting for All-Star Game defensemen, but that's apparently because voters haven't caught up with his November effort. Markov, rumored to be playing through a hip injury, was a minus-12 in his last 10 games and is now a minus-10 on the season.

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