The Vancouver Canucks were furious with the four-game suspension handed down by the NHL to defenceman Aaron Rome Tuesday.
One day after head coach Alain Vigneault and captain Henrik Sedin admitted Rome's hit on Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton was late, the Canucks were singing a different tune, more defiant in their characterization of the hit, and outraged at the league.
And there's good reason for that. Several of them, in fact.
For starters was Mike Murphy's admission that he consulted with Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, a former NHL disciplinarian, before arriving at his decision. The mere mention of Burke's name elicits anger from the Canucks, because his relationship with team owner Francesco Aquilini is toxic.
There were other reasons: Rome's despondency at missing the rest of the Stanley Cup final; the stiffest suspension ever administered in the final; and the lack of disciplinary consistency and perceived injustices from earlier this postseason.
If it had stopped at that, there would have been plenty of bad tidings to go around. That Burke was dragged into it only fanned the flames.
General manager Mike Gillis would not comment when asked directly about Burke's involvement, saying only that "we're disappointed but we're moving on." Reached via text message, Aquilini said he would be making no comment until after the playoffs.
"I'm talking about Brian Burke. I don't like to mention people who I deal with," Murphy said in a press conference. "He was one gentleman who I did speak with. There's a lot of other people I spoke with, too, not just Brian."
Privately, the Canucks were stupefied that the NHL's senior vice-president of hockey operations would admit to that conflict of interest, given that he is only in charge of supplemental discipline in this series because of a conflict of interest. Discipline would normally be handled by hockey operations head Colin Campbell, but he recused himself because his son, Gregory, is a forward with the Bruins.
That Murphy didn't know of the hostilities between Burke and the Canucks, or knew yet still chose to brandish Burke's name in public, was twilight zone stuff for the Canucks. "Nothing surprises me any more," one official said when asked about conflicts of interest in the NHL head office.
Burke was quick to clarify his role in the proceedings, using media friends to describe his role as "procedural" and adding that he was not asked for an opinion on the matter. Murphy indicated he spoke with Burke because of his experience in the job, and because he is unable to confer with Campbell.
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.
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver's captain, said Rome was "devastated" by the suspension, while Vigneault referenced two hits in a third-round series against the San Jose Sharks that went unpunished by the league. The league had assessed three previous suspension in Cup final history, all for one game.
"I had a coach call me this morning to tell me 'Focus on the things that are within your control, and they're making it up as they go along, so don't worry about it,' " Vigneault said.