TrevorPresiloski
Burrows v. Auger: Case Closed?
January 13th, 2010

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So justice was meted out by Colin Campbell and the NHL tonight regarding Alex Burrows’ comments pertaining to the officiating in Monday night’s loss to the Nashville Predators. Burrows, for speaking his mind and accusing referee Stephane Auger of having a grudge against him, was fined $2,500 for doing so. According to Darren Dreger and Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy, Auger is receiving no punishment and the matter is closed.

Understandably, this has folks in Canuckland seething. The fact that Burrows would be punished for his transgressions while Stephane Auger would get off scot-free doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, there are very strict rules that pertain to criticizing NHL officials and Burrows, no matter how justified he was in making his comments, was breaking those rules.

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That Burrows was going to be taking a hit in the wallet should be of no surprise to anyone. What remained up in the air today was how severe Burrows punishment was going to be. As Wyshynski points out, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell could have dealt out far harsher punishment.

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One can’t help but draw comparisons to Jeremy Roenick’s on ice tirade from 2004, which came after on-ice officials completely missed a high sticking call that resulted in blood being drawn against good ‘ol JR. After some rather enthusiastic protestations, Roenick was ejected from the game, which only further infuriated him, as he lobbed a water bottle in the direction of the referee and then spoke his mind afterwards.

Incidentally, both the Burrows and Roenick incidents received widespread media coverage (gaining the attention of hockey-indifferent ESPN down in the United States) and both occurred at roughly the same point of the season.

The result? A $10,000 fine and a 1 game suspension. This, after an official’s negligence resulted in a player losing a tooth and requiring stitches and no penalty being assessed against the offending team.

Burrows’ $2,500 fine and being able to continue to play look rather tame in comparison and you can’t help but wonder why. For all intents and purposes, it looks as though Burrows was only being punished because he had to be punished. The lack of a suspension or a more expensive fine, either to Burrows or to the Canucks organization speaks to that.

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This, of course, can be seen as Burrows post-game comments being granted validity by the NHL, that he may even be right that Stephane Auger had a score to settle with him. It follows, then, that if Burrows was telling the truth about what happened in Monday’s game, why hasn’t Auger been punished? Surely if the NHL is letting Burrows off easily with a minimal punishment following his rather serious allegations, they would be quick to punish an official who wasn’t doing his job.

Thus, the lack of punishment is a head scratcher.

That is, until you realize that the NHL prefers to do everything behind closed doors. Players aren’t supposed to comment about refs (hence Burrows’ fine) and the refs aren’t made available to the media after games (like the players are.) They’re well protected and any sort of discipline pertaining to them is only whispered about, being about as elusive as a date with Megan Fox. It’s hinted that playoff officiating can be used to reward or punish referees, although nothing concrete has been proven regarding that claim.

I personally don’t agree with the way the NHL handles things, and think the League would be better off if they made things more transparent in how they handle things like this and other questionable referee calls. Instead of protecting their officials, they should be making them accountable for their decisions on the ice. If a referee like Stephane Auger, who, according to Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun, ‘has a reputation for inconsistency and arrogance’ and who ‘amongst peers is not especially popular’ was thinking about visiting retribution down upon Burrows had to face the music in the form of angry reporters or from a public disciplinary hearing, chances are he wouldn’t have gone over to Burrows and said anything and this whole ugly matter wouldn’t have happened.

It may have also prevented some previous incidents from occuring, such as his involvement with Shane Doan from a few years ago or the ‘intent to whistle’ no-goal call against Detroit earlier this season. Instead, Auger gets protected by the league and controversial incidents involving him continue to happen.

Much has been said about how Alex Burrows and the Vancouver Canucks shouldn’t expect much sympathy from the officials now as they will be under a microscope for the immediate future. Stephane Auger should expect to be placed under the same scrutiny, though, scrutiny which I would argue should and would exist if the NHL was more transparent in how it dealt with their referees. It shouldn’t have to come about as a result of a player speaking his mind and getting fined for it, it should already be there.

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It may also help in other instances. Recall that NHL referee Dean Warren was fired for ‘phantom calls’ in two NHL playoff games two years after they had occurred. The resulting wrongful dismissal suit that Warren fired (he alleges that he was fired due to his activity with the NHL Officials Association and not due to subpar performance) has been in the Ontario courts for a while now and some embarrassing e-mails from Colin Campbell have come to light as a result. Had Warren truly been someone who, as ex-NHLOA director Stephen Walkom put it, ‘cheapens the profession’ dealing with him in a public manner would have saved the resulting legal battle and helped to keep other officials on their best behavior.

One of Campbell’s e-mails about another official has him saying “We look absolutely stupid when we call mysterious hooks as there were in this game.”

It’d be great to know if he shared this same sentiment about Stephane Auger and the calls he made Monday night against Vancouver. Sadly, given the NHL’s closed door policy, we can only speculate on Stephane Auger’s ultimate fate.

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