Question: Would Horton still be playing if the NHL handled things earlier in the Cup Final?

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There have been two prevailing philosophies in the wake of Aaron Rome’s ill-fated hit on Nathan Horton. On one side of the fence, there are those who think the incident could have been avoided if the NHL took action at the beginning of the series to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. Since the hit was not properly dealt with by the league, the situation escalated and peaked with the charged atmosphere of Game 3.

For the opposing viewpoint, there are those who think the Burrows incident may have been shameful, but it had nothing to do with the disastrous hit that led Horton to Massachusetts General Hospital. Alex Burrows antics may have led to misbehavior in Game 2 and 3, but had nothing to do with the merciless hit delivered by Aaron Rome.

Hall of Fame columnist Helene Elliott of the LA Times thinks Rome’s hit in Game 3 could have been avoided had the league executed some discipline earlier in the series:

“(Rome’s hit) might have been avoided had Murphy established control by suspending Vancouver’s Alex Burrows for biting the fingers of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in Game 1 or punished Vancouver’s Maxim Lapierre for putting his fingers near Bergeron’s mouth in a taunting fashion in Game 2. When Game 3 disintegrated, Bruins forwards Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic joined the juvenile pranks, taunting and wagging fingers at the Canucks.

“I will be speaking with both general managers and coaches before the day’s over about what we are seeing, the garbage that is going on, some of the issues,” Murphy said Tuesday during a news conference.

Just like Rome’s hit, Murphy’s lecture came a little too late.”

Not everyone shares Elliott’s opinion. Neither Comcast New England’s Joe Haggerty, nor Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien think the events are related.

“There is no correlation between the post-whistle shenanigans practiced by the Bruins and Canucks in the first three games of the series, and the predatory, reckless hit by Rome that’s ended Horton’s season. That was a piece of hockey violence born from two teams fighting for the same Stanley Cup.

It’s a major leap to say the Horton hit was caused by anything else other than a random act of violence in the playoffs that has left another B’s player dazed, confused and unsure of where he is. Julien won’t take that leap. He’s watched years and years of playoff hockey where borderline hits, broken bones and even biting all have their place within the game.

“I don’t think one links to the other,” said Julien. “What you see with the extra pushes and shoves after whistles are things you see in the playoff finals with the intensity. The referees have done a pretty good job of controlling that. I don’t see an issue there. The physicality of the game has to stay there.”

While it’s understandable to see where Elliott is coming from, Aaron Rome would still have made the same play whether Alex Burrows was suspended or not after Game 1. One play has nothing to do with the other. As Haggerty states, it was “born from two teams fighting for the Stanley Cup.” Rome made an open-ice hit—albeit extremely late. Regardless, it’s a split-second decision that is made in a fast-paced game. He didn’t have time to sit back and contemplate whether he’d receive less punishment because the standard had already been set so low. As much as fans (and I) have come to hate the term, he was trying to make “a hockey play.” Obviously, he failed and that’s why he’ll miss the rest of the series.

Even though the lack of response from the league office had nothing to do with the Rome hit, it has certainly adversely affected the rest of the series. If Murphy and Co. took care of business after the first game, all of the embarrassing finger waging by both teams could have been avoided. Chances are Maxim Lapierre doesn’t taunt Patrice Bergeron in the same manner; likewise, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi aren’t caught doing the exact same thing in Game 3.

But it still had nothing to do with Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton.

What do you think? Do you think the league contributed to a toxic atmosphere in Game 3 where Aaron Rome lost control? Was Rome’s hit completely unrelated to the rest of the series? What say you?