At long last, the seemingly eternal saga of Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore may have come to an end. It took 10 years and felt like 100, but regardless, there is still relief in the air.
There was some recent speculation that the announcement of the deal was premature, and that a deal hadn’t actually been reached as reported. This came primarily from Steve Moore’s brother Mark Moore. But a story from TSN’s Rick Westhead tells us differently. According to Geoff Adair, Bertuzzi’s lawyer, all that’s being negotiated now is the terms of the confidentiality pact. If there were any objections in this area, they would be settled by an arbitrator, and Moore’s brother doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“Adair told TSN that terms of a settlement have been reached and that Danson is negotiating over terms of a confidentiality pact. But even if there are any objections, those would be settled by an arbitrator, Adair said.”
For those of you who are not familiar with the incident, welcome to Earth, I hope you enjoy your stay. The essence of it is, one night in March a decade ago, Todd Bertuzzi punched Steve Moore after Moore declined to fight him. It was largely attributed to an incident a few weeks earlier when Moore had elbowed Markus Naslund in the head.
The vengeance was ugly, Moore wasn’t ready and crumpled to the ice in a heap, and the foundation was laid for a story that would haunt the Canucks and the NHL more than any other incident in its history. I would normally attach a link here, but the world has seen it a million times. I, unfortunately, had a perfect view from behind Moore from my seat in the lower part of the upper bowl. The moment it happened a hush fell over the crowd, and everyone new this wasn’t going to be a simple suspension.
There were other infamous moments in the league’s history for sure. The Ted Green-Wayne Maki stick fight, the Bruins going into the stands at Madison Square Garden, Marty McSorley clobbering Donald Brashear on the head with his stick, these were all horrible events in the NHL that the league wish never happened.
But the Bertuzzi-Moore story became something unique, probably due to the fact that at that time, the league was starting to crack down on head shots in an effort to protect their players, as they finally saw the problem for the epidemic it was. Concussions were recognized as much more than just a headache, players are bigger and stronger than they were even 20 years ago, and if the headshots continued unabated there just wasn’t going to be anyone left to play the game.
There is never a good time for something like this to happen, but when you’re the league and you’ve just started declaring a “get tough” policy on reckless play, the program looks to be as effective as an umbrella against mortar shells.
The league certainly didn’t come out of it looking very good for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they clearly dropped the ball in their efforts to be proactive and stop this type of thing from occurring in the first place. If they had followed the policies they were trying to enact and suspended Moore for his hit to Naslund’s head in the first place, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened. No, the league doesn’t physically control a player’s actions, but make no mistake, they have some blame to assume in this whole fiasco.
It was a public relations nightmare for a league trying to increase its viewership in the non-traditional markets. The casual fan, never afraid to overreact, viewed the league as a bunch of Cro-Magnons who had recently discovered fire.
To make matters worse, the league was already having labour issues, and in fact the following 2004-2005 season was wiped out altogether. They were already fighting the reputation that the game had become as exciting as watching 2 people read a book. It was an unwelcome final touch on a Picasso of ineptitude from a league trying to build a fan base.
Local radio went berserk. Talk about overreaction, 2 local sportscasters on a popular afternoon show did everything but call for Bertuzzi to be drawn and quartered. Canuck faithful didn’t appreciate it. In what re-defined not being able to read your audience, these 2 almost literally had their heads handed to them. The backlash was so severe they even got death threats. It got so bad they even took a day off from discussing sports at all and talked about movies instead, in an effort to calm the outpouring of animosity. An outpouring that they themselves instigated, but I digress.
There were definitely some unhappy fans with Bertuzzi and the Canucks. Some made the expected move of cancelling season tickets, choosing to judge a lifetime of hockey by a singular and extremely recent moment. Very rational.
But overall, the support for Bertuzzi was unrelenting, Canuck fans rallied around him and called the team expressing their support. Then-GM Brian Burke vowed to call every one of those fans back and thank them, and he did, including myself.
And then there was the effect on the players themselves. Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season, which added up to 13 regular season games and 7 playoff games. Ultimately, it may have cost the Canucks a Stanley Cup. The following season was cancelled due to a ridiculous lockout, but the IIHF honoured the NHL’s suspension, preventing Bertuzzi from playing overseas, as many players opted to do. And off the ice, he pled guilty to criminal assault, received 1 years’ probation and 80 hours community service.
When the lockout finally ended and the 05-06 season began, Bertuzzi continued his career but never returned to being the same player he was before the suspension. Previously he was an almost unstoppable force, but upon his return he became essentially a role player.
Steve Moore never played again after that March evening, and the legal battle had begun. The lawsuit began at 18 million, then 38 million, then not very long ago it rose to 68 million. Why 68 million you ask? Because apparently a Bajillion-Ghillion dollars turned out not to exist.
It’s unclear if Steve Moore’s lawyer Tim Danson suddenly developed a sense of humour, or if he was hoping for a gullible judge, or if his garage is leaking car exhaust into his house, but he clearly subscribes to the theory of “aiming high”.
It’s not that Moore’s injuries weren’t severe, his career was cut short by an intentional act and he is trying to recapture money he now cannot earn. The damage went beyond his hockey playing abilities, there was an emotional toll and lingering health effects such as headaches. The physical effects may also prevent him from using his Harvard education, which could definitely bring in decent money, so that had to be factored in. His family says he loses focus, is inaccurate and forgetful and has questionable judgement.
But it’s tough to arrive at the numbers he’s throwing out, he was a 4th line player with
little experience at the time, not even a regular NHL’er, so it seems 68 million is being generous as a career earnings figure with his skill set. Greedy? Well, definitely hopeful.
The Upside Of An Out Of Court Settlement
It’s hard to know where to begin. The league is doing very well, so a long drawn out court case that highlights a violent incident to a global audience would be a major embarrassment.
It would be a sports version of the O.J. Simpson trial, and a lot of the good that the league has done would come unravelled very quickly. The NHL would take an awfully long time to recover from 4 solid months of being flogged like a rented piñata, and would likely singlehandedly prove that there is, in fact, such a thing as bad publicity.
Never mind the fact that Gary Bettman himself would be called to testify, he’s currently salivating at the idea of expansion to places like Seattle and Las Vegas, which would certainly be a harder sell if the sport spends 4 months being compared to feeding Christians to the lions.
And the outdoor games? The ones he loves so much he’ll stage one in an Arizona shopping mall parking lot? Those would suffer too, and that would be a disaster due to the revenue and good public relations they bring in.
And there is also the joy of finally not having this incident come up regularly in conversation, which it would continue to do until its resolution. It’s like finally getting rid of that rodent infestation.
The Money Side Of Things
I was wondering how things would break down financially. TSN That’s Hockey did a segment where the aforementioned Rick Westhead said he talked to some legal experts, and they figured the settlement would be $25-30 million.
Let’s say $30 million to be on the safe side, I wondered what the payment details would look like, as in who would pay how much. That is probably part of the confidentiality agreement, along with the total amount.
So we’ll make the safe guess at a 50/50 split, which amounts to $15 million each from Bertuzzi and the Canucks.
In an article by Ian Macintyre of the Vancouver Sun, I learned that Bertuzzi made $28.7 million after the Moore debacle. Even if his financial handler invested as aggressively as the Wolf of Wall Street, it’s still a huge chunk to come up with. Although he does have career earnings of over 47 million, it’s still a fantastic amount of money to pay out for anything. But even if he spent foolishly before ’04, he certainly didn’t after, and was likely very diligent in saving, investing and so forth to prepare for this eventuality.
Apparently insurance will pay the Canucks share, though it would be a lot easier for the team to come up with that kind of money if they had to. So it’s not like the franchise is in danger of folding as a result of the settlement.
The end result of all of this was physical trauma, financial loss and 10 years of uncertainty for both players. The fans have experienced lingering effects, as has the league. It certainly wasn’t pleasant, but now that it’s over you can sense relief from everyone, and we can all look forward to the beginning of the season instead of the beginning of a trial.