Cue The Haters: Bertuzzi Not Suspended

Last night's 3-2 OT loss to the Chicago Blackhawks still stings this morning, but the Wings received some unexpected good news when it was announced that Todd Bertuzzi will not face any supplementary discipline for his hit on Ryan Johnson. Bertuzzi received a 5 minute major and game misconduct for his actions, which occurred early in the first period of last night's game.

I can say I am honestly surprised that he did not receive a suspension of any kind, but pleasantly so. Bertuzzi has been solid again this year for the Red Wings, and a prolonged absence from the lineup would have hurt the team late in the regular season where points are hard to come by. That he'll be on the ice Wednesday night to face the Blues is good news for a team that is desperate to get on a roll.

However, the lack of a suspension/supplementary discipline is not going to sit well with many around the league. Follow the jump for reaction to the news and some of my thoughts on this whole mess.

Let me get this out of the way for the 200 billionth time: I have never and will never condone what Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore. At the time of that incident, I was calling for a multi-year suspension for Bertuzzi, but (shockingly) the NHL chose to suspend him for the balance of the 2004 season and the following year. Due to the lockout, Bertuzzi didn't miss many "games", but that's not the point. The point is that he served his league-mandated sentence and has been given the opportunity to pursue a living doing the only thing he knows how: playing hockey.

Was that right? Should he have been suspended for life, never allowed to play again? Ultimately, the answer to those questions are separate from the incident last night. Bertuzzi's hit on Johnson was ill-advised, but not the intentional, vicious hit some would have you believe. I'm not about to blame the victim here, but Johnson did duck, leading to the contact with the head that has resulted in the outcry from the rest of the league. For his actions, he was rightly kicked out of last night's game.

The issue here is not the hit: it's the man who made it. If this had been Johan Franzen or Mike Modano or almost anyone else on the Wings, the hue and cry for a suspension would be significantly less than what it is today because it was Todd Bertuzzi. There's no question that he will never escape the stigma of being a "dirty" player based on the Moore incident, and I'm not going to try and change anyone's mind about the type of player (or person) Bertuzzi is.

However, when looking at the hit last night in context, many people are bringing up what happened 7 years ago. To me, these are 2 entirely separate, distinct events, one having nothing to do with the other. This is not, as many people have suggested, "Matt Cooke 2.0" where we're dealing with a player who has a recent history of dangerous plays that have resulted in injury. This is also not a case of Bertuzzi "not learning his lesson" or having "not changed" since the Avs game. This was a poor attempt at a bodycheck that resulted in a penalty, not intentionally coming up behind a guy and punching him in the head.

To the people out there who believe Bertuzzi should be out of the league forever after last night's hit, answer me this: besides the Moore incident, give me an example where Bertuzzi acted with reckless disregard for the safety of his opponent. It's ok: I'll wait. Further, if you want to say that Bertuzzi is a "repeat offender" based on what happened 7 years ago, then I direct you to the current CBA and what it has to say about how "repeat offender" status is determined:

(c) Status as a "first" or "repeat" offender shall be re-determined every eighteen months, on a rolling basis, i.e., where a player does not have another suspension for 18 months, his next suspension will be treated as a "first" offense.

Like it or not, the Moore incident is no longer on Bertuzzi's "record" when determining the need for supplementary discipline. If you disagree with that, then voice your concerns to the NHL and NHLPA when they negotiate the next CBA. For the Cooke-defenders, note that since January 27, 2009, he has been suspended 4 times.

I find it laughable that so many people want to tar and feather Bertuzzi for this incident. I guess it's a testament to how many people hate him and how deep that hatred runs. I see comments from some of the Hawks like Johnson who said that he did not think the hit was malicious and that Bertuzzi immediately came over to apologize, and from Quenneville who said the Pavel Kubina hit on Dave Bolland (a hit that was also not reviewed for supplementary discipline) was worse and realize that it's solely because it was Bertuzzi. Whether that's fair or not is something I'm not going to touch.

I truly hope that this latest incident doesn't stop Bertuzzi from playing the way he has the last 2 years: disciplined, solid hockey. I think he's done a very good job of coming back and staying out of trouble (and I say this as a guy who was less than enamored with his signing), and I hope that he puts this behind him and gets ready for the playoffs. I think the criticism of him in relation to the Moore hit are unfair, but what are you going to do? Haters gonna hate.

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