Everyone deserves a chance to defend himself. That includes Alex Burrows, the Vancouver Canucks forward who alleged that NHL referee Stéphane Auger deliberately targeted him for revenge in a pregame chat between the two men last Monday.
Last Saturday night (with Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior vice-president and director of hockey operations, beside him), Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean took Burrows to task for his allegations about Auger, allegations given credibility when the referee hit Burrows with a questionable interference penalty plus a misconduct in the third period of Vancouver's 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. MacLean, a certified referee, showed several videos of Burrows embellishing calls in previous games to draw penalties.
In one instance he showed Burrows waving off medical help to get "more bang for the buck." MacLean concluded that, given Burrows's history of diving, his charge against Auger was not credible, a conclusion Campbell had reached earlier in the week after exonerating Auger (who has never answered media questions on this issue).
While Campbell was present to reinforce the league's opinion, neither Burrows nor anyone from the Canucks was given a chance to try to rebut MacLean's analysis. However you feel about Burrows, shouldn't his side of the story have been represented during MacLean's inquiry? Where was the balance in the piece? While Don Cherry is allowed editorial opinion, isn't MacLean supposed to be the impartial journalist on Hockey Night? If the NHL wants an advertisement for itself, shouldn't it just buy time?
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was understandably steaming following Vancouver's 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. "I'm happy [Burrows]didn't see the Ron MacLean bashing prior to the game," Vigneault said. "I didn't think that was very fair. … I saw parts of it. Well set up. Great job. Well set up to bash Burr. It was a great job by MacLean. Nicely set up."
When Vigneault was told MacLean has been a referee, he added: "Is that what he is? Okay, thanks for telling me."
Vigneault followed up on CBC's After Hours program. "I think it's really quite unfair from your boy Ron MacLean to go after Alex the way he did tonight and take the footage that he did tonight," the Canucks coach told Scott Oake. "Ron MacLean should have had the footage of Auger and Burrows skating 31 seconds together prior to the game. That footage has never come out.
"You only see Auger and Burr talking to one another for about four seconds [in media clips] but they did two full loops together and Stéphane Auger and Alex Burrows agreed on everything that was said except for one thing."
Gee, wonder what that would be?
As long as the NHL clandestinely investigates itself in such matters - as it did with Burrows/Auger - it should expect skepticism from fans and players about the results. Perhaps the time has come to have a neutral third party - agreed upon by the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association - investigate such incidents. It's done in salary arbitration, where a professional arbitrator makes the decision. The NHL's cult-like supporters would no doubt howl about third parties ruining the grand old game. But with the integrity of the sport at stake, a more neutral approach could reassure fans and deliver the sport from any more one-sided TV critiques.
Fleury Of Accusations
Last week, Winnipeg police announced they are investigating a sexual-assault complaint filed by former NHL star Theoren Fleury against his former junior hockey coach, Graham James. This would seem to fulfill Fleury's promise to finally have the case resolved, a promise he made when his book, Playing With Fire, was launched last fall.
But people in Fleury's camp are disturbed that Fleury has been victimized in the media for not pursuing the issue sooner. Kirstie McLellan Day, Fleury's co-author on the book, has blasted Calgary Sun columnist Eric Francis for trying to make Fleury the bad guy.
Day says Francis suggested that Fleury had ducked media inquiries after the charges were announced in Winnipeg. "Pressured by critics to follow through with the message in his autobiography Playing With Fire - report abuse to authorities - Fleury wasn't interested in discussing his motives yesterday," Francis wrote in the Sun last week.
"This is a blatant distortion of the facts," Day replied. "Eric removed the crucial sentence where Theo explained that he was instructed not to talk to the press so as not to interfere in the investigation."
On his Facebook site, Fleury endorsed Day's comments. "Please take a moment to read "Enough is Enough" [a story on Fleury's site] Written by Kirstie McLellen Day. My family and I want to thank Kirstie very much for writing this."
Francis says he "stands by every column I've ever written. Good for Theo for trying to get a monster like James away from more potential victims, and good for Kirstie for trying to protect her business partner. I have a good relationship with both Theo and Kirstie and give them credit for being able to garner endless publicity for the book."