NHL needs to come clean on Auger-Burrows issue

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A good way to lengthen the life span of a controversy is to maintain silence on the issue.

According to that line of thinking, the NHL apparently wants to make the brewing scandal between Vancouver Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows and NHL referee Stephane Auger into something huge.

There has been a great deal of speculation about the recent incident involving Burrows and Auger, a dispute that was brought to light following Vancouver's Monday night loss to Nashville.

As an entry point to this story, it's best to begin with Burrows' comments after the game, considering that's the way the rest of us learned about the situation in the first place.

"It was personal," Burrows said. "It started in warm-up. Before the anthem the ref came over to me and said I made him look bad in Nashville on the Smithson hit. He said he was going to get me back tonight. He caught me on a diving call I didn't think was diving and on an interference call...I had no idea how he could call that.

Alexandre Burrows, pictured, was fined $2,500 for making post-game accusations about referee Stephane Auger.
"It changes the game. It sucks. I think he should sit out the rest of the year making calls like that, making us look bad. Every two points are so important in this league. We just blew two points because of his officiating tonight."

Burrows was fined $2,500 for making those post-game accusations and I believe that the league definitely needed to levy that punishment. The NHL has a responsibility to protect its officials and fining a player for speaking out so harshly against a referee -- even if the ref was in the wrong -- is a no- brainer.

However, on Tuesday night it was also revealed in a report by TSN Canada's Darren Dreger that as far as the league is concerned, the matter is closed due to a lack of evidence. That means no penalty whatsoever for Auger, at least none that the NHL is willing to share with the public.

Even worse, since the NHL believes there is no basis to Burrows' claims, is the fact that the league appears unwilling to officially comment on this scandal at all.

How can that be? Does the league really believe the best course of action is to simply ignore this situation?

After all, with the gambling scandal involving disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy still fresh on everybody's mind, it's probably not best to assume that the public will give a professional sports league the benefit of the doubt when it concerns the integrity of its officials. You would think NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would have learned from his friend and counterpart in the NBA, David Stern, who is still putting out fires from his officiating scandal.

Of course, the Burrows-Auger scandal is hardly on the level of the NBA's Donaghy fiasco, but the NHL is kidding themselves if they think this will simply go away without them addressing the incident in some way.

Before getting back to what actually happened Monday night, it's important to understand when this feud between Auger and Burrows initially began.

When the Canucks played in Nashville on December 8, Jerred Smithson of the Predators was given a five-minute major for charging as well as a game misconduct after delivering a hit to Burrows. Auger allegedly felt that he was duped by Burrows, who laid on the ice for quite some time after the hit, but ultimately never missed a shift in the game,

The league agreed that Burrows exaggerated the injury and rescinded the game misconduct call. But, apparently that wasn't good enough for Auger.

One of the worst pieces of evidence for the league in this situation is that there is video of the pre-game encounter that Burrows described after Monday's game. Auger is clearly shown skating alongside Burrows and speaking to the player for several seconds. Of course, we have know idea what is being said, but considering that the league frowns upon officials chatting with players before games, it doesn't look good for Auger.

Then there are the actual calls in the game to examine. Burrows was given two- minute minors for diving and interference in the third period and a quick search on YouTube will result in little video evidence to support either of those calls. The interference penalty was particularly awful, as Burrows was whistled for what appeared to be a minor, and accidental, collision with Nashville's Joel Ward.

The interference call came just four seconds after Vancouver went on a power- play following a hooking penalty on Nashville's Ryan Jones. Henrik Sedin of the Canucks was then called for tripping just 18 seconds after the Burrows' interference penalty and that 4-on-3 advantage resulted in Shea Weber's game- winning goal, which gave Nashville a big two points over a conference rival.

Burrows then lost his cool in the closing seconds of the game. He was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct and given a 10-minute major for arguing with Auger in the final seconds.

All the evidence is circumstantial and open to various interpretations, but that hardly matters to fans because it's clear that the NHL isn't defending itself in a courtroom but rather in the realm of public opinion, where appearances are everything.

Just watch the video of the incidents in question and think about Burrows' post-game comments, and it's pretty difficult not to take the player's side in this instance. Every one of Burrows' charges is supported in some small way by videos available widely on the Internet. His locker room commentary has over 60,000 views on YouTube and a six-second clip of Auger "chatting" with Burrows before the game has been watched over 35,000 times since being uploaded on Tuesday.

If the league doesn't speak out on Auger-Burrows it's likely that this controversy will only gain steam amongst the public. Even if the NHL doesn't deem punishing Auger necessary it should still comment on the situation to give hockey fans the impression that they are taking this seriously.

Up until now, the biggest controversy facing the league this season was whether it was doing enough to protect players from dangerous hits. That debate is one that will likely rage on as long as professional hockey is being played, and one can understand why the NHL doesn't address it officially.

However, the Auger-Burrows scandal is something entirely different and the league would be wise to take control of it before it snowballs into something worse. After all, as the saying goes, "bad news travels fast."

In this age of information, truer words have never been spoken.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo
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