Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most infamous events in NHL history: the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident. The pall of that night still hangs over the league to this day, primarily because Moore’s subsequent lawsuit against Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks has yet to be resolved.
But we now know it won’t be much longer until the case is finally heard. Six months to the day, as a matter of fact – Sept. 8, in a Toronto courtroom. And unless Moore does something dramatically out-of-character between now and then – by which, I mean accept an out-of-court settlement – there’s no stopping hockey from being put on trial to a degree we’ve not seen before.
While there have been a number of attempts to get Moore to settle prior to a trial, they all have been unsuccessful. This won’t come as a surprise to those close to the Moore family. They’re an intelligent, driven, principled clan that didn’t wait this long simply to soak Bertuzzi and the Canucks for as much money as they can get. On a basic level, they believe the culture of hockey deserves to go under the microscope and be held accountable for what takes place within its rules.
That’s what petrifies NHL people about the legal showdown that’s coming: there’s no escape from it, and the control over what takes place ultimately is out of their hands. You’ll never see league brass more displeased than when people viewed as interlopers (ahem, Phoenix Coyotes, Jim Balsillie and bankruptcy litigation) choose to interlope. And in this legal situation, nothing will be off-limits. The NHL’s revenge culture will be called into question, as will its supplementary discipline leniency (at least, relative to other professional sports operations) policies. In particular, the bounty placed on Moore’s head by the Canucks – as confirmed by then-Vancouver forward Brad May – will be crucial to the entire proceedings as the plaintiff’s attorney Tim Danson attempts to prove premeditation and reckless disregard for the well-being of his client.
If the verdict in this six-person jury trial goes against the Canucks and Bertuzzi, the ramifications on the league and the game are likely to be extraordinary, even if Moore doesn’t get the entire $60 million he is seeking. The manner in which the game is played, policed and punished at the NHL could change in extremely short order. Health standards for players also could shift. And of course, those consequences will filter down through the minor pro and amateur systems so that all hockey players are affected in one form or another.
In other words, this is as foundation shaking as it gets. This is why some very powerful hockey people will be as interested in the results of Bertuzzi/Canucks/Moore as they were in any lockout or Stanley Cup final.
By the end of it, they, and we, could be facing the prospect of a significantly different NHL.