Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

One More Time

14

The last I want to do is write another post about Alex Burrows but I don’t understand why the league has chosen to give the subject legs by making Burrows the villain of the piece. It would have been better for all concerned if they had left the issue swept under the rug. The Ron MacLean interview of Colin Campbell on HNiC on Saturday night and the subsequent response of Alain Vigneault on After Hours poured gasoline on the fire. Since then, MacLean has been defending the HNiC segment in the Vancouver media. Setting aside the dubious relevance of the HNiC report, MacLean touched on the nub of the real issue in L’affaire Auger:

“I absolutely 100 per cent can’t buy Auger would say I’m going to get you. I do dismiss that out of hand… The referee is committing suicide. Does he hate his career that much that he wants to go out and do that.”

I’m willing to concede this point because I don’t think it is very important, but I won’t concede it without pointing out the hole in the logic. A referee who said this is not committing suicide because the league will always dismiss such an allegation out of hand. All it takes is a measure of stupidity and or arrogance.

But fine, Auger did not explicitly threaten Burrows. Here’s MacLean again:

“It’s inconceivable for an official to tell a player he’d get him back. It’s not inconceivable that he would do it.”

Exactly. And that “conceivable” idea – that Auger would give Burrows penalties in one game for actions taken in another – is the only issue. That is the accusation. That’s the integrity issue and that’s the issue Colin Campbell has not addressed. Ex-referees like Paul Stewart and unnamed existing officials have acknowledged that it happens. It should not.

Does Burrows make life difficult for the officials? Sure. That’s Auger’s motive, his reason for abusing his power. The Smithson tape is evidence against Auger, not against Burrows. Payback is okay as long as the referee doesn’t explicitly threaten payback before he does it? That’s nonsense. The only good defense of Auger involves defending the calls he made on Burrows. At best, both were extraordinarily bad calls and I don’t buy coincidence as the explanation.

I don’t want to see Auger referee another NHL game. I don’t trust him.

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Comments

14 Responses to “One More Time”
  1. Sean Kaye says:

    I hear your point about referees not carrying incidents from past games into current ones, but let’s face it they’re human. Players remember things that happened in previous games and dish out payback all the time – again, their human. Emotions are involved, but like you said, professional referees need to be impartial adjudicators of the game as they see it and makes calls based on the evidence they have before them.

    Put Auger aside. Burrows has a built for himself a reputation that he will embellish things and dive. What should the penalty be for him? He is bringing the game into disrepute. Suspension? Fine? What should the league be able to do to him for persistent cheating?

    See in one comment you say you have no problem with Auger looking at Burrows with a “jaundiced eye” yet every marginal call he’d make going forward you will call cheating.

    And again, you’re dealing with Auger as though he were the original perpetrator, he was not, Burrows was.

    PS – I thought Vigneault handled the whole thing on the After Hours segment very well, I have the utmost respect for the guy, he was classy. He defended his player while accepting the league’s decision with grace. Ron McLean’s outburst, not so much. He was angry because of his background as a referee, the whole thing touched a nerve.

    • Tom says:

      I hear your point about referees not carrying incidents from past games into current ones, but let’s face it they’re human. Players remember things that happened in previous games and dish out payback all the time – again, their human. Emotions are involved, but like you said, professional referees need to be impartial adjudicators of the game as they see it and makes calls based on the evidence they have before them.

      Exactly.

      See in one comment you say you have no problem with Auger looking at Burrows with a “jaundiced eye” yet every marginal call he’d make going forward you will call cheating.

      Burrows has a propensity to dive? As an impartial adjudicator, I’m going to make sure I see a trip before I call one when Burrows goes down. If he was tripped it is a penalty. If I’m not sure it was a trip it was not. If it was a trip and I think Burrows went down to make sure it was called, he gets a penalty too. Those are the rules the referees are paid to enforce.

      That is a vastly different thing than delivering up Auger’s revenge by putting Burrows in the box for an invented penalty.

      Put Auger aside. Burrows has a built for himself a reputation that he will embellish things and dive. What should the penalty be for him? He is bringing the game into disrepute. Suspension? Fine? What should the league be able to do to him for persistent cheating?

      If Burrows dives, the referee can call a penalty. If the diving penalty is missed, it is one of a dozen missed calls in every game. It just isn’t that big of a deal. On every diving penalty there is a real penalty being called.

      And again, you’re dealing with Auger as though he were the original perpetrator, he was not, Burrows was.

      Unless you think it is okay to get back at a player a month after the original incident, we are dealing solely with Auger. The only relevance of the Smithson hit is that it provides the motive for Auger’s abuse of power.

    • Roberto says:

      Burrows has a built for himself a reputation that he will embellish things and dive.

      That’s interesting. According to the Team 1040 the other day (Blake Price’s show, IIRC), Burrows has been called for diving twice in his last 300 or so games. Yep. He’s a regular Greg Louganis.

  2. rajeev says:

    I hope you keep writing posts on this every day until the NHL position – that unless a referee makes an explicit and substantiated threat of retribution to a player, no impropriety or wrongdoing has occurred – is universally recognized as intellectually asinine and detrimental to the sport of hockey. Obviously, any concentration of power is going to fight hard to either maintain or expand that power, and produce whatever rhetoric helps them achieve that end, but even the Soviets had a more convincing justification for the invasion of Afghanistan than the NHL’s inaction here. Ditto for the US in Iraq.

    Chomsky has an interesting take on the role of the “liberal” press, like the New York Times. He sees them as essentially the “guardians of the gate” of governmental/business power: that they provide a measured critique, but one that forms the limit of acceptable criticism. You can go this far, but only this far. (cf. the “liberal”/Anthony Lewis position on the Vietnam War – that it was well intentioned but tactically flawed and ultimately too costly. There is no principled or moral attack.). I can’t help but compare Ron MacLean’s service to the NHL to that of the “liberal” press to government/business.

    Ron, if you still do not understand why the NHL’s and your position on this is absolutely absurd and harms the game, please contact him and he’ll explain it to you. Better yet, let him go one CBC and explain it to the viewers (Tom: if this happens, read from a script, do not extemporaneate). A firm indictment of Auger is not a defense of Burrows, not does it allow or enable him to act the way he acts, which is sometimes stupidly and deceptively (what a player, though). I’m not sure that those on the NHL’s side are able to conceptualize this distinction.

    Every additional game Auger is allowed to referee is yet another deepening black mark on the league. I have to believe Auger will be dismissed over the summer for “performance” or “undisclosed” reasons. I believe the NHL is just too shorthanded with respect to refs to rock their “we do as we please” boat as of now.

    And as an aside, I can’t help but wonder if Paul Kelly would have had anything to say about any of this if he was still at the NHLPA.

  3. noah says:

    Following up on a previous conversation, assuming that:

    1. it’s impossible for referees to adequately police embellishment during the heat of a game (as evidenced by the original Burrows incident, Mike Ribero vs. the Leafs leading to a game winning goal, countless other incidents)

    2. fines of a few thousand dollars here and there are meaningless to players (or at least a lot less meaningful than wins or losses)

    3. players shouldn’t be punished in one game for transgressions committed in a previous game

    How should the NHL deal with embellishment?

    Obviously by the letter of the law, Burrows shouldn’t be punished in one game for what he did weeks ago, but without the threat of that happening, what’s going to discourage him from embellishing at every opportunity?

    • Kel says:

      It’s a good question, and it looks like suspension is the only way to go about it. Even then, teams may simply ask less unimportant players whose suspensions don’t hurt the team much to dive and embellish. Perhaps the league should do diving reviews in real time. Perhaps they should review all penalties after each period. If a player is found to be have dived, any PP goal scored during the unjustified penalty would be nullified and the offending team is assessed a 5 minute major (in addition to regular playing time). That should be punishment stiff enough to deter any blatant diving/embellishment.

    • rajeev says:

      How should the NHL deal with embellishment?

      Players that routinely embellish simply should not get calls on borderline penalties that are committed against them. It’s fairly simple, and Tom dealt with this issue in his first post on the matter. If Auger thinks Burrows is making him look bad, he just doesn’t give Burrows the benefit of the doubt when Weber may or may not have held or interfered with him. A player like Derek Roy should never get the benefit of any infraction potentially committed against him because he dives at every opportunity. The refs should probably also call diving as a stand alone penalty more often. What shouldn’t happen is a ref making up non-existing calls against the targeted player, as Auger twice did with Burrows.

      • Tom says:

        The refs should probably also call diving as a stand alone penalty more often.

        For this case, I’m kind of glad that they don’t. That was one of the striking things about Auger’s first call on Burrows. That it was a stand alone penalty. I can’t remember the last time I saw a dive called that did not involve offsetting an actual foul.

        I don’t think Burrows was embellishing on the play – there was really nothing to embellish – and I definitely don’t think he would embellish anything in a game when he knows one of the referees was pissed off at him for a previous incident. A couple of periods after Auger warns him about diving and warns him that he will be watched closely (the best interpretation of Auger’s position) Burrows takes a dive?

    • Tom says:

      Obviously by the letter of the law, Burrows shouldn’t be punished in one game for what he did weeks ago, but without the threat of that happening, what’s going to discourage him from embellishing at every opportunity?

      1) Short of players, fans and the media deciding that good sportsmanship is more important than winning, diving will always be a problem.

      2) As problems go, this ranks about 233rd on any list of NHL problems. Auger’s solution reflects on his integrity – a far bigger issue than diving.

      3) Auger was not really mad about the embellishment anyway and that is not really what motivated him. Most of the time, the result of a dive is, at worst, a blown call – nothing else happens. The ref never hears about it. In this case, something happened because the game misconduct had to be reversed. Auger was mad because he was embarassed. He was punishing Burrows because Burrow’s actions led to the league action and Auger was called to the carpet.

  4. artv says:

    “The only good defense of Auger involves defending the calls he made on Burrows. At best, both were extraordinarily bad calls and I don’t buy coincidence as the explanation. I don’t want to see Auger referee another NHL game. I don’t trust him.”

    It’s stunning how few people actually understand that this. It’s not relevant whether the player in question is Burrows or Crosby or Mother Theresa.

    Were the calls legit? If not, why not? Incompetence? Something more sinister?

    It reminds me of the defence r@pists used to employ, grilling the victim on her attire or dress on the night in question. Burrows’ deportment in this or any other game is so besides the point is reveals a remarkable lack of acumen for anyone to even mention it. That Ron McLean would spend my tax dollars resting his case on that very point – and then continue to defend it in print – tells me he’s as big a nitwit as I suspected watching him being Cherry’s lapdog for a quarter-century.

  5. artv says:

    To the apologists’ credit, McLean’s tactic has worked: even this post, which started out as a means of re-focusing the debate on the crucial issue, quickly devolved into a discussion on diving.

    Goebbels is dancing in his grave.

  6. Tom says:

    A firm indictment of Auger is not a defense of Burrows, not does it allow or enable him to act the way he acts, which is sometimes stupidly and deceptively (what a player, though).

    To be honest, I don’t think he is all that bad. Most of his agitating is done with his tongue. He does cross the embellishment line once in a while, but he isn’t a dirty player and he’s never hurt anyone or come close to hurting anyone. He does have a singular ability to get guys mad at him with his chirping.

    The worst part of the league decision to go after Burrows is they are turfing a great marketing story overboard. Undrafted? This is a guy who did not play Major Junior until he was 19. And he’s improved to the point that he’s playing on one of the best lines in the NHL. Talk about rags to riches. He’s done it with brains, hard work and passion. It’s been a pleasure watching him get better and better and it is hard to be anything but delighted for him.

    The day after his outburst an “NHL source” is whispering to Darren Dreger about a dark side? My ass, I say. I’ve been tempted to vigorously defend Burrows more than once, but that would be just as irrelevant as painting Alex as a villain. I concede Burrow’s character and I concede Auger’s version of the discussion only because I see them as red herrings.

  7. mc79hockey says:

    Good stuff on this Tom. I’m amazed at how many MSM guys don’t see this the same way as you. Personally, I see the whole thing as a pretty good argument for procedural justice. Campbell’s statements about how the Burrows version of events wasn’t substantiated were asinine. Plus, much as it’s irrelevant, if Ron MacLean really thinks that a ref would never do what Auger did, he needs to spend some time in a law office reading statements of clam. You would not believe the stupid things that people do.

  8. Boxcar says:

    Tom, your thoughts on the Coach’s refusal to let any players be interviewed by HNIC after the Hawks game? Does tis mean if the team doesn’t agree with a story they will deny acess to the offender? That’s why we have so many softball reporters and it ends up just propoganda for the league.
    Usually I find your blog enlightened and fair but it seems like you have developed a bit of a “Homer” syndrome on this story.

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