Tuesday June 7th, 2011

BOSTON -- Forget the post-whistle shoving matches, the nasty cross-checking, finger-biting and calf-slashing antics. The real message was sent on Tuesday when the NHL announced its four-game suspension od Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome for his late hit on Boston's Nathan Horton during Monday night's game.

The hit and subsequent punishment can -- and likely will -- be debated for days, but one point is indisputable. There are no winners in this.

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"There's no lightness about it," the NHL's senior VP of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy said in explaining his ruling. "There's no fun to this. There's no enjoyment to this. Everybody loses. The fans lose. We lost two good hockey players ... I wish I wasn't sitting here. I wish Aaron was playing, and I wish Nathan was playing."

But neither player will be. Horton, who was released from the hospital on Tuesday morning, suffered a severe concussion and will miss the remainder of the series. Rome will not see the ice before next season.

The four-game suspension was a tough call to make for Murphy, who is charged with the unenviable task of determining supplemental discipline for the final since Executive VP Colin Campbell has recused himself because his son Gregory plays for the Bruins. It is the most severe punishment the league has leveled at this stage -- Jiri Fischer (in 2002), Ville Nieminen ('04) and Chris Pronger ('07) have each previously received one-game suspensions -- but ultimately it was the right one.

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The image of Horton on the ice, his arm momentarily extended like it had been petrified and his eyes glazed and rolling back into his head, is not one that anybody wants to see. And an unprecedented four-game suspension should be one step toward erasing that picture from the game. Of course, it would be unreasonable to imagine a contact sport that didn't include potential for injury, but it's hard to find a problem in wanting to minimize such devastating damage, particularly when it comes to the head. Bones heal. Muscles and tendons can strengthen. But brain damage leaves the most lasting effects. And no one deserves to have his mind messed up.

Even if Horton was looking at his pass, as some have seemingly relished in pointing out, Rome has two eyes, and they were squarely on his target. If he can see where Horton is looking, his sense of personal responsibility has to kick in. If I am driving in a car and see a man crossing the street and looking down at his BlackBerry, do I not apply the brakes? Even if he's in the wrong, or blithely unaware, I'd be guilty of negligence. It's an extreme example, and in no way am I suggesting that Rome was trying to hurt Horton nor am I asserting that the defenseman is a dirty player.

There is a difference between malicious and careless; Rome's hit fell into the latter category.

NOTES: In other news, NBC/Comcast won its bid to continue carrying the Olympics from 2014 to 2020, paying $4.38 billion for United States broadcast rights. This development is encouraging to hockey fans, who have enjoyed seeing NHL stars represent their countries every four years. Though the question of the NHL's continuing participation will not be settled until the next CBA, it should be expected that NBC will want NHLers at the Games, for ratings and generally for a better on-ice product. With the network and the league entering into a 10-year partnership earlier this year, it seems certain that NBC will try to convince the league to continue on in Sochi and beyond.

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