John Tortorella's comments regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, and the subsequent $20,000 fine handed out to the Rangers head coach, have stirred up a lot of debate on several different fronts.
The problem with the fine isn't that Brooks Orpik didn't face discipline for the hit that caused the caustic comments. It has nothing to do with the idea that there's some sort of league conspiracy that's protecting the Penguins, either.
(Because that's silly. For every person who thinks the league is biased towards Pittsburgh, there's another making the case that they love Toronto because the War Room is there, or that they love the Rangers because their offices are in Manhattan, or that they love the Flyers because Comcast owns them, or that they love the Bruins because Colin Campbell's son plays there, or ... you get the point.)
The real problem with the fine is the blatantly obvious yet widely unnoticed contradiction the league is making here.
In bringing down the hammer Tortorella, Commissioner Gary Bettman is invoking his powers under Article 6 of the NHL Constitution, which states in part:
Whenever the Commissioner shall determine ... that any person connected with the League or a Member Club has either violated the Constiution, By-Laws or any other governing rule or regulation of the League, or has been guilty of conduct detrimental to the League or the game of hockey, he shall have full and complete authority to discipline such person.
That's where Bettman is given the power to fine head coaches, and that's exactly the power he exercised on Friday afternoon. In determining whether or not the hefty fine was just punishment, we have to ask: Were Tortorella's comments detrimental to the NHL or to the game itself?
Let's take a look one more time at what the coach had to say on Thursday night. We'll go line-by-line, and the assumption we're working with is that a simple disagreement with a call is not necessarily fine-worthy.
It's a cheap, dirty hit.
Probably an accurate statement.
I wonder what would happen if we did it to one of their two whining stars over there.
Annnnnnd boom. That didn't take long at all.
"Two whining stars" isn't what's fine-worthy here at all, although it might seem that way because that's the headline-grabber. Prefacing it with "I wonder what would happen," however, certainly is detrimental to the league. It insinuates that the conspiracy is indeed real and that there's a double standard that's working against Pittsburgh opponents.
That is absolutely something the NHL cannot let stand. They can't let an NHL coach insinuate that there's a double-standard that benefits one team over another. If you agree with Torts you'll probably argue and say that the double-standard does indeed exist, but when you think about it there's not a ton of evidence to back that up.
Matt Cooke plays for the Penguins and was suspended 17 games (ten regular season and one full playoff round) last year. There was no supplemental discipline on the hits that sidelined Sidney Crosby with a concussion last year, nor was there a suspension to Eric Nystrom for the hit that sidelined Kris Letang with a concussion in March. If the league truly was looking out for Pittsburgh, fairly or unfairly, things would have been different in every one of those circumstances.
Moving on with Torts' quote ...
I wonder what would happen.
Oh, he repeated that part.
So I'm anxious to see what happens with the league on this. Just no respect amongst players. None. It's sickening. ... Ask the guy who did it. Ask him. That's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look what happened.
Nothing in the end there could be detrimental to the league, even if it was certainly detrimental to one of the league's clubs. Calling another team arrogant and calling two players whiners isn't what got John Tortorella fined. It's insinuating that the league office somehow conspires to support Pittsburgh. It's not true and the league was right to quash it.
Here's where the NHL's hypocrisy really shines through: See that video of Tortorella's quote we embedded? That came from NHL.com. The league took the feed from Rangers' broadcaster MSG Network, cut the clip down to the segment you see above and uploaded it to their official website for all to see.
THAT'S the problem with the NHL's fine of John Tortorella. If the comments really, truly were detrimental to the league, why is the league displaying them prominently on their official website?
When it comes to the legitimacy of the NHL's officiating crews and the hockey-types in the New York and Toronto offices, yes, Tortorella's comments were worthy of a hefty fine. But when it comes to the league's coffers? When it comes to fans flocking to the NHL website and their TV partners to see what Tortorella had to say?
That wasn't detrimental to the league at all. In fact, it was the complete opposite.