The irony is that the Vancouver Canucks enter a new National Hockey League season next month surrounded by questions of toughness after being manhandled in the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins last spring.
Yet it is the Vancouver Canucks who will be before the Ontario Superior Court next year when the NHL’s “code” of vigilante justice goes on trial.
Wednesday, a target date in the civil case of former NHL player Steve Moore was set for Sept. 24, 2012, if defendant Todd Bertuzzi is still an active NHL player, or Oct. 22, 2012, if Bertuzzi has retired.
Bertuzzi was a member of the Canucks when he attacked Moore, then of the Colorado Avalanche, during a game on March 8, 2004, in Vancouver. Moore suffered fractured vertebrae and permanent brain damage and has not played an NHL game since.
“I don’t think that the team played that particular way [seven]years ago, either,” said Victor de Bonis, chief operating officer of Canucks Sports and Entertainment, when asked about the culture change around the team since the Bertuzzi-Moore incident. “It was a split-second, or two-second, incident at the end of the day. It would be nice to get it behind us all and move forward and I know that’s something everybody wants.”
Moore is seeking $38-million in damages to cover lost income from the premature end of his hockey career, but that figure is expected to rise to cover lost wages from a post-NHL career, according to sources. The 33-year-old Moore has a degree in environmental sciences from Harvard University. Moore’s statement of claim will argue that the brain damage has left him incapable of a high-level post-NHL career.
Moore’s lawyer, Tim Danson, refused to discuss an increase in damages.
“All I can say is it’s clearly been a long time and it’s been extremely difficult for Steve Moore and the Moore family,” Danson said. “Most important, now it is an opportunity to present the facts and the truth as opposed to speculation and rumours and have members of the public, which is our jury, look at the facts in an objective way and finally have adjudication on these important issues.”
A third-party suit, in which Bertuzzi is suing former Canucks head coach Marc Crawford, will be heard at the same trial.
Bertuzzi contends that Crawford encouraged him to avenge Moore’s hit on then Canucks captain Markus Naslund in a game three weeks before the incident in Vancouver. Crawford denies that he sent Bertuzzi on the ice to exact retribution.
The stakes are high for Crawford, the Canucks and particularly Bertuzzi, who now plays for the Detroit Red Wings. While the Canucks and Crawford are covered by the team’s insurance policy, Bertuzzi is not because he pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to probation and 80 hours of community service.
Bertuzzi, 36, will be personally liable for any damages that may be awarded, although the Canucks’ insurance policy only covers the team and Crawford up to $10-million with an additional $1-million for legal fees.
The sides have gone to court-ordered mediation, which failed to produce a settlement.
De Bonis said the team would “absolutely” continue to defend its position. Bertuzzi’s lawyer, Geoffrey Adair, could not be reached for comment.
“It’s a long time ago, and I’m sure the right minds will do the right things and it will resolve itself,” de Bonis said.
The Canucks have undergone sweeping changes since that night in 2004, including being sold to new owners and an overhaul of management, and are now viewed as one of the league’s doves, perhaps too much so in the opinion of some fans. One of the lasting images of the 2011 Stanley Cup final is of Bruins forward Brad Marchand repeatedly punching Daniel Sedin in the face with no retaliation from the Canucks’ winger or his teammates.
Throughout the 2010-11 season, the Canucks relied on a potent power play to retaliate against perceived injustices. General manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault have said the team would not change the way it played in 2011-12, and does not believe it requires an enforcer.