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

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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.