Todd Bertuzzi–Steve Moore incident
|Date||March 8, 2004|
|Arena||Rogers Arena (then GM Place)|
|City||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada|
The Todd Bertuzzi–Steve Moore incident (also called the Steve Moore incident, the Bertuzzi incident, and the Bertuzzi Moore incident) was a controversial play in ice hockey that happened during a National Hockey League (NHL) game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche on March 8, 2004. In the first period, Steve Moore fought Vancouver player Matt Cooke and served the 5-minute major penalty for fighting. The Avalanche would go on to build up a large lead in a fight-filled game. Late in the third period, Todd Bertuzzi was sent onto the ice. After failing to instigate Moore to fight, Bertuzzi skated after Moore, grabbed his jersey and punched him in the back of the head. Bertuzzi landed on top of him, after jumping on his back, driving Moore face first into the ice followed by Moore's teammate Andrei Nikolishin and Bertuzzi's teammate Sean Pronger. Moore was knocked out and lay motionless for ten minutes before being carried off on a stretcher. The combination of the hit, fall, and piling-on had resulted in three fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts and a concussion.
Background and reason for the incident
On February 16, 2004, during a game between Vancouver and Colorado, Avalanche center Steve Moore injured Canucks team captain Markus Näslund by checking him in the head while Näslund was reaching for the puck ahead of him. Näslund, the league's leading scorer at the time, suffered a minor concussion and a bone chip in his elbow as a result of the hit, knocking him out of the lineup for three games. Referee Dan Marouelli did not call a penalty, ruling the hit legal, a judgment shared by the league upon further review after the game.
Canucks head coach Marc Crawford publicly criticized the no-infraction call, claiming that Marouelli and his partner, Rob Martell, needed to show "respect" for the league's leading scorer. Vancouver president and general manager Brian Burke, the league's former chief disciplinarian, described the play as "a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit". Several Canucks players were also vocal against Moore in the media. In particular, forward Brad May issued a "bounty" on Moore, while Bertuzzi called him a "piece of shit." Näslund missed three games as a result of the hit and returned in time for the next game between the Canucks and Avalanche on March 3. With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance, the contest was played to a 5–5 tie without incident.
In a rematch five days later, the Canucks were more active in physically pursuing Moore. In one of four fights in the first period, Canucks forward Matt Cooke fought Moore six minutes into the game. At the first intermission, with the score already 5–0 for Colorado, executive vice-president Colin Campbell and director of officiating Andy van Hellemond placed a phone call to the two referees overseeing the game to discuss the potential for an escalation in physicality. With Colorado leading 8–2 midway through the third period, Bertuzzi began following Moore around the ice, attempting to provoke him into another fight. With Moore ignoring him, Bertuzzi grabbed Moore's jersey from behind and punched him in the back of the head, then drove Moore face first into the ice as they both fell down. Bertuzzi, as well as several other players from both teams, landed atop Moore as he fell to the ice. Canucks fans initially cheered at Bertuzzi's actions, but as it became apparent Moore was seriously injured, the arena became silent.
After lying on the ice for approximately 10 minutes, Moore was removed from the playing surface on a stretcher. With eight minutes remaining in the third period, Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix reportedly asked referees to end the game. The contest was nonetheless played out with the Avalanche winning 9–2. Moore was taken to Vancouver General Hospital and later transferred to a Denver hospital, where he was treated for three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a grade three concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, and facial lacerations. He was also suffering from amnesia.
Two days after the incident, Bertuzzi scheduled a press conference in which he wept and apologized to Moore and his family, as well as to Burke, Canucks owner John McCaw, Jr., the Canucks organization, his teammates, and the fans. He added, "For the kids that watch this game, I'm truly sorry. I don't play the game that way. And I'm not a mean-spirited person."
Reactions and disciplinary actions
Bertuzzi was assessed a match penalty and ejected from the game. Per league rules, he was also suspended indefinitely pending a ruling from Bettman. On the morning of his apology, he attended a disciplinary hearing with NHL officials in Toronto, along with his agent, Pat Morris, and Brian Burke. The following day, on March 11, 2004, the league ruled he would remain suspended for at least the remainder of the Canucks' season, which ultimately cost him the final 13 games of the regular season plus seven playoff games. The Canucks were additionally fined $250,000. While the following NHL season was suspended due to the 2004–05 lockout, many players went overseas to play in Europe. Upon learning that Bertuzzi was intending to do the same, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) extended his NHL suspension to cover their jurisdiction. He did, however, participate with other NHL players in a December 2004 charity game, held in Vancouver. The game was organized by Brad May in partnership with the Vancouver Giants, a junior club in the Western Hockey League (WHL), and raised funds for Canuck Place, a Vancouver children's hospice sponsored by the Canucks. Bertuzzi received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
Though the NHL lockout had not yet been resolved between the league and the players, Bettman scheduled a reinstatement hearing for Bertuzzi on April 26, 2005. The hearing was attended separately by Bertuzzi and Moore. After the lockout officially ended and the NHL was set to resume play for the 2005–06 season, Bettman announced Bertuzzi's reinstatement on August 8, citing that "Mr. Bertuzzi ha[d] paid a very significant price for his conduct," adding that he felt Bertuzzi was "genuinely remorseful and apologetic." Bertuzzi's 17-month suspension caused him to miss a total of 20 games--the fourth-longest suspension in NHL history at the time. The suspension accounted for $501,926.39 in forfeited salary, as well as an approximate $350,000 in lost endorsements. Bettman also cited "uncertainty, anxiety, stress and emotional pain for the Bertuzzi family" resulting from the suspension as a reason for his reinstatement.
Releasing a statement on December 17, 2004, the IIHF described Bertuzzi's actions as "an extremely serious violation of the rules" which put "the sport into disrepute." The decision was based on an IIHF statute which allows it to bar any player from playing internationally if he has been deemed "detrimental to the best interest" of hockey. Suspended by both the NHL and IIHF, Bertuzzi remained professionally inactive during the 2004–05 season. The IIHF's sanction also kept him from representing Canada in the 2004 and 2005 World Championships, as well as the 2004 World Cup.
On the day of his reinstatement, Team Canada's executive director, Wayne Gretzky, offered Bertuzzi a spot on the national team's summer orientation camp in preparation for the 2006 Winter Olympics. A week later, Bertuzzi broke his 17-month-long public silence by again admitting to his mistake and expressing a desire to move on with his life. He stated, "I'm sure just like Steve Moore and his family, it's been difficult for both parties. I know I wish that day never happened. It's been some tough times, but I've got good family and good friends and good peers in the league that have helped me get over the hump and move forward and come through it."
Legal action and lawsuits
Original 2005 - 2008 lawsuit
Beyond his NHL and IIHF suspensions, legal action was taken against Bertuzzi in the provincial courts of British Columbia and Ontario, as well as in Colorado state court. After a four-month investigation, the criminal justice branch of the Attorney General of British Columbia announced on June 24, 2004, he was being formally charged with assault causing bodily harm. With the charge, Bertuzzi faced up to one-and-a-half years in prison. Several months later, on December 22, Bertuzzi pled guilty to the assault charge after arranging a plea bargain with prosecutors. He was given a conditional discharge requiring 80 hours of community service and one year's probation that additionally prohibited him from playing in any hockey game Moore was competing in. Under Canadian law, Bertuzzi's successful completion of his probationary period precluded him from a criminal record. Moore expressed disappointment regarding Bertuzzi's discharge and was upset that he was unable to attend the court date, having to issue a written victim statement instead. Moore's lawyer, Tim Danson, was given one day's notice of the court date following Bertuzzi's plea bargain, which he said was insufficient time for Moore to travel to Vancouver.
On February 17, 2005, Moore filed a lawsuit in a Colorado court against Bertuzzi. Also named in the lawsuit were numerous individuals within the Canucks organization, including Brad May (Bertuzzi's teammate at the time who was quoted as saying that there would "definitely be a price on Moore's head" after Moore's hit on Näslund), Brian Burke, Marc Crawford, as well as the Canucks organization as a whole and the Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment company that owned the team. The lawsuit was thrown out in October 2005, as the Colorado judge ruled the case was better suited for Canadian courts, as Moore and all the defendants were Canadian citizens. Planning to appeal the decision, Danson stated publicly the following month that Moore had begun skating and doing regular workouts, but continued to suffer concussion-related symptoms.
On February 16, 2006, the day of Bertuzzi's first Olympic game with Team Canada, Moore filed another lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court against Bertuzzi, the Canucks, and Orca Bay, seeking CAD$15 million in pecuniary damages for loss of income, CAD$1 million for aggravated damages, and CAD$2 million for punitive damages. Moore's parents, who were watching their son on television when the attack happened, also sued, seeking CAD$1.5 million for "negligent infliction of nervous shock and mental distress". Moore's lawyer filed the suit one day before its two-year limitation expired, denying there was any connection between the timing and Bertuzzi's participation in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
In December 2006, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and top lieutenant Bill Daly facilitated a meeting between Moore's representatives and the defendants in hopes of agreeing on an out-of-court settlement. As court proceedings continued into the next year, Danson misfiled a confidential letter to Bertuzzi's lawyer, Geoffrey Adair, as a public document. The letter revealed that in July 2006, Adair asked Danson in a meeting whether Moore would accept a CAD$1 million settlement; Danson indicated that the figure was insufficient. The letter also revealed that Bertuzzi and Orca Bay subsequently offered a joint settlement of CAD$350,000 in the December 2006 meeting with Bettman several months later, an amount Danson described as insulting.
During the lawsuit's discovery process, Danson asked the Ontario judge to void the formal transfer of Bertuzzi's CAD$1.2 million home in Kitchener, Ontario, to his wife, which occurred five weeks after his actions against Moore. It was argued that the transfer was intended to "make Bertuzzi creditor-proof to the greatest extent possible." Meanwhile, Adair expressed his concern regarding the leaked letter between him and Danson impairing the possibility of a fair trial. In December 2007, Moore further amended the suit, seeking an increased CAD$35 million for loss of income and CAD$3.5 million for the suffering of his parents.
That same month, the Ontario Superior Court released statements pertaining to the lawsuit in which Bertuzzi testified that Crawford was to blame for his actions against Moore, an allegation corroborated by new Canucks general manager Dave Nonis, who was then director of hockey operations for the club. Bertuzzi claimed that the Crawford told players during the second intermission of the March 8 game that Moore needed to "pay the price" for his earlier hit against Naslund. Statements filed from Danson further claimed that Crawford had pointed to Moore's name and number on a board in the Canucks' dressing room during the intermission, calling for the players to take action. The Canucks formally denied both parties' claims, saying "At no time did the Vancouver Canucks organization or any of its management and employees, including former coach Mr. Crawford, encourage or promote the incident that occurred between Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore."
In lieu of the allegations against Crawford, Bertuzzi filed a third-party complaint against his former coach on March 3, 2008. He alleged that he was contractually obliged to obey Crawford and that the coach should be held personally liable for any legal damages Moore might be awarded in court. In response, Crawford formally stated that Bertuzzi acted in "direct disobedience" to orders from the bench to get off the ice before attacking Moore. The suit was settled between the two in July 2011, though details regarding the agreement were kept undisclosed to Danson and Moore. The following year, a court decision required the settlement details to be revealed as part of the Moore-Bertuzzi trial.
Five years after filing the Ontario suit, Danson told reporters in March 2011 that the case had not yet proceeded in order to fully gauge the extent of Moore's injury. At the time, he was not yet employed and still experiencing headaches. After several delays, the trial involving Bertuzzi and Moore is scheduled to begin in April 2013.
On August 8, 2005, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that Bertuzzi would be allowed to play again at the start of the 2005–06 NHL season. In the league's decision, they cited many reasons for ending the suspension, such as:
- Bertuzzi serving a suspension of 20 games, which at the time tied for 4th longest in NHL history (13 regular season games, 7 playoff games)
- Bertuzzi's repeated attempts to apologize to Moore personally
- Bertuzzi's forfeited salary ($501,926.39 )
- Lost endorsements (approximately $350,000.00, both figures in United States dollars)
- Significant uncertainty, anxiety, stress and emotional pain caused to Bertuzzi's family
- The commissioner's belief that Bertuzzi was genuinely remorseful and apologetic for his actions
On August 12, 2005, Brian Burke, formerly Vancouver's general manager who was now serving in the same capacity with the Anaheim Ducks, had made an offer to Moore. It was a two-way contract that would have paid Moore $475,000 US in the NHL and $75,000 if the player suited up for Portland, the Ducks' American Hockey League affiliate. Moore's lawyer Tim Danson objected that Moore was considered a minor league player by Burke. Danson also described the offer as a self-serving attempt to mitigate potential legal damages, saying that Moore was not medically cleared to play hockey and describing it as adding insult to injury.
Bertuzzi was inactive in 2004–05 due to the players lockout and his ongoing suspension, which had been extended internationally, Bertuzzi returned to the Canucks in 2005–06, as the league ended his playing ban. He recorded 25 goals and 71 points, including two hat tricks (November 13, 2005, against the Detroit Red Wings and January 14, 2006, against the New York Islanders). Though he ranked third in team scoring, Crawford has recalled that by the end of the season, Näslund and Bertuzzi had been eclipsed by Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the team's offensive leaders.
There was speculation that the effects of the Steve Moore incident, which included assault charges and constant media coverage, were negatively affecting his play. While on the road, he was consistently heckled and booed by fans throughout the NHL. Näslund, a close friend of Bertuzzi's, later expressed sympathy for him, saying in a 2008 interview, "It still bothers me what Todd has had to go through...There's no question he was standing up for me...it all went too far."
Beyond the negative impact on Bertuzzi's individual play, the media speculated that the fallout from the Moore incident had become a distraction to the organization as a whole. Compounding the situation in Vancouver, the Canucks had missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. As such, general manager Dave Nonis spent the off-season making significant changes to the Canucks lineup. On June 23, 2006, he traded Bertuzzi to the Florida Panthers, along with goaltender Alex Auld and defenceman Bryan Allen, in exchange for goaltender Roberto Luongo, defenceman Lukáš Krajíček and a sixth-round selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (Sergei Shirokov). After seven-and-a-half seasons with the Canucks, Bertuzzi left the club ranked seventh all-time among franchise scoring leaders with 449 points.
Moore began skating and working out again in November 2005 in hopes of a comeback. However, he had to abandon any hope of resuming his career when it became apparent he would never be medically cleared to play again.
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