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NHL has separate levels of accountability

LINEUP CARD COLUMN by Jim Swanson, Citizen Sports Editor We're all Canucks fans, aren't we? Well, if not, you should be. Canucks faithful or not, you should be wondering if the NHL took Alex Burrows seriously.

LINEUP CARD COLUMN by Jim Swanson, Citizen Sports Editor

We're all Canucks fans, aren't we? Well, if not, you should be.

Canucks faithful or not, you should be wondering if the NHL took Alex Burrows seriously.

I doubt you missed the story, but if you did, here's the Reader's Digest version. Burrows, a Canucks forward, claimed referee Stephane Auger turned things personal in Monday's NHL game featuring the Canucks and Nashville Predators.

Auger, video shows, said something to Burrows before the game, the player later sticking his neck out in front of reporters and cameras and saying Auger told him he was out to get him for embellishing a hit in a previous game. Auger managed to give Burrows two minors, the second leading to Nashville's game-winning goal, before directing the Canuck to the showers with another minor and a misconduct.

That was hardly the end of the story as Burrows provided the league's best soundbite while burning off some lactic acid on a stationary bike.

The league dropped a $2,500 fine on Burrows for criticizing the official -- a fine that will, no doubt, be paid by someone other than Burrows, someone who supports his dangerous stand. You might guess that Burrows will cut a cheque for the full amount, but might find himself as guest of honour at a $2,500 lunch bought by someone named Aquilini.

Auger, meanwhile, was on the ice Wednesday night in Calgary, one of two referees officiating the game between the Flames and Penguins. Given the playoff race heating up between the Flames and Canucks, Calgary fans should have given Auger a standing ovation and taken him out for a post-game dinner at the same Italian place the Oilers enjoyed on New Year's Eve.

The NHL office essentially offered nothing about Auger, and that leaves plenty of questions.

What did Auger say to Burrows? Is it chalked up to mere coincidence that Burrows was later given a questionable diving penalty (involving Dan Hamhuis, notably), and then sent off for a complete phantom interference call?

The bigger question, does the NHL view officials as above reproach?

The statement issued Wednesday by NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell -- wasn't he on the blueline for the 1982 Canucks team that reached the Stanley Cup final? -- basically said that what Burrows claimed could not be corroborated, and that Burrows brought the integrity of the game into question by mouthing off.

Circumstantial evidence says otherwise.

The statement did not address the bad calls that, without question, impacted the outcome of the game, no matter how you look at it. There is no mention of going over the video with Auger, checking to see he had proper positioning, and reviewing the referee's application of the rules. Certainly no indication the NHL held his feet to the fire for two terrible calls.

And, a trivia note -- Auger was the lead ref in question a few years ago when Shane Doan found himself in national hot water over an allegation of a slur against Francophones. That claim was never corroborated, either, but it had MPs in Ottawa questioning why Doan would be named captain for Team Canada at the world championship.

The problem the NHL has here is the inconsistency that a player can be singled out and punished in a public manner, but clams up when a striped participant is involved. It creates the appearance of two sets of standards -- compounded by the fact Burrows is required to be available to media, while Auger is not allowed to answer open questions and state his case.

Fixing that area alone may solve this debate, but we will never know -- not as long as the referee is held to one standard of accountability, and the player is held to another.

jswanson@pgcitizen.ca

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