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NHL's Mike Murphy Discusses Decision On Aaron Rome Suspension

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Aaron Rome was suspended four games by the NHL on Tuesday for his hit on Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins, and as a result, the Vancouver Canucks defenseman will miss the remainder of the Stanley Cup Finals. He could even miss time next season if the series doesn't go seven games. 

Mike Murphy, the NHL Senior VP who made the suspension decision, spoke to the media in Boston on Tuesday. Here's a full transcript of that talk. 

Q. Mike, can you walk us through the hit, the way you viewed it when you slowed it down and watched it in real-time. Do you think it was blindside or not?

MIKE MURPHY: I probably viewed it like most of you did. I thought it was a late hit. I thought that the body was contacted. But I also thought that the head was hit. 

It caused a serious injury to Nathan Horton. So the key components are: the late hit, which I had it close to a second late. We have our own formula at NHL Hockey Operations for determining late hits, and it was late. We saw the seriousness of the injury with Nathan on the ice last night.

That's basically what we deliberated on. We tried to compare it with some of the other ones in the past. But it stands alone. It's why we made the ruling.

Q. Can you share what your conversation with Aaron was like? Did he have an explanation for how he viewed it, what he was thinking?

MIKE MURPHY: Yeah, I can. I don't want to say much because the hearing is a private conversation. But he felt it was a hockey play, a hockey play that went bad. Those are my words, not his, but that's basically what he said. It was a one-on-one play. The puck was released, and he followed through with the hit.

Q. The suspension was for the lateness of the hit.

MIKE MURPHY: Yes. The lateness combined with the injury.

Q. Without speculating too much, had that hit occurred quicker, a split second after he released it, would that hit have been deemed legal under Rule 48?

MIKE MURPHY: This has nothing to do with Rule 48. This is just an interference penalty, an interference hit. If it was immediate after he released the puck, it would be a legal hit. We have them all the time.

Q. Because it's a north/south hit?

MIKE MURPHY: North/south play. And we viewed it as that, too.

Q. Mike, how difficult is it to take away Aaron's ability to play in this series? These are different than regular-season games.

MIKE MURPHY: I take it very seriously, very seriously. Aaron Rome is an important part of the Vancouver team. Guys play all their lives to get to this series on both teams, and you might never get back. So I take it very seriously. That's all I can say. I do not make light of this. I wish I wasn't sitting here. I wish Aaron was playing, and I wish Nathan was playing.

Q. This is the longest final suspension assessed in Stanley Cup Final history. Can we as media that cover this head-hitting incident for the last three years assess that the league has taken a step to the more serious side of punishing these kind of hits?

MIKE MURPHY: Without question, we have. And I think we have ramped it up through the year. Most of what I know and what I decided on today I've learned from Colin Campbell. I know he learned a lot from Brian Burke.

This has to do with what we talk about almost on a nightly basis in the Toronto video room when we have multiple clips, not to this severity, but we have a group of people that share ideas and share thoughts.

We often get asked about panels. Yeah, we have a panel of people that I discuss this with, and a lot of people outside the panel. As difficult as it was, this was the right thing to do.

Q. Whenever something like this happens, we all give our opinion, one game, two games, rest of series. What was your thought process, your conversations behind the scenes, to arrive at a specific number?

MIKE MURPHY: First of all, I don't make any assessments immediately. I need to look at things in a little cooler temperature than the arena. You never want to say something that's wrong, especially in the severity of these type of things where we've got one young man in the hospital and one young man taken out of the Final.

There's no lightness about it. There's no fun to this. There's no enjoyment to this. Nobody wins in this. Everybody loses. The fans lose. We lost two good hockey players.

I sit down and I look at it and I get a gut feel for the play and say, "What exactly happened here?" I look through it, look through all the angles, look at all the different network feeds. I start asking questions of people I have confidence in that can give me their side of information, their information, Terry Gregson, Kris King. Unfortunately I'm not able to use the wisest of them all, Colin Campbell, right now. He's been eliminated from the series and not involved. I have no conversations with him.

But this is what the number was when we kind of went through it and the way I felt it. That's why it was assessed.

Q. Is there a formula equating playoff games to regular-season games?

MIKE MURPHY: Yes. It's more severe.

Q. Is there a number?

MIKE MURPHY: No. I wish there was a number. There's not. You have to feel that. I know in the past when we had a playoff suspension, I remember the Pronger elbow going back, the Lemieux hit going on, that was two, Pronger was one. I spoke to the gentleman who issued the two. Wanted his formula, talked to him about it.

I'm talking about Brian Burke. I don't like to mention people who I deal with. He was one gentleman who I did speak with.  There's a lot of other people I spoke with, too, not just Brian.

Q. If there is a multiplier, for the sake of argument say it's two and a half, we're talking about a 10-game suspension which I think is unprecedented, is the Stanley Cup Final the time to start setting precedence with these things?

MIKE MURPHY: That's your number, not mine. My number is four. It is what it is. It stands alone. I looked at it alone. I know where we are in the Final. I don't want to put what it would be in the regular season. Yes, it could be eight, ten. I don't know what it could be. I didn't look at it in the regular season. I looked at it in the context of the Final.

Q. Was Brendan Shanahan, seeing as he's getting the baton for next year to handle all the disciplinary stuff, can you confirm he was part of the discussion?

MIKE MURPHY: Absolutely. Brendan has been on our team in Hockey Operations for two years. We talk to Brendan on almost every issue we have. As I said, every night we have eight, ten issues come out of there. Brendan is on there. We take input. The way Colin operates, he says "Take a look at this, give me your thoughts." Last night I sat with Brendan, we discussed the play, the pros, the cons, what they saw, what they felt.

Guys like Brendan and Rob Blake, you can't get better people involved. They're just recently retired. They've lived these rules. They've lived this game. They've lived it at this level, the finals.

Q. We all want to talk about precedent. How difficult is it, even in the concept of that, given that in this sport every play is unique?

MIKE MURPHY: What are you saying there? I'm not sure what your question is.

Q. How can you set a precedent when every play is different?

MIKE MURPHY: Well, there are examples of plays that we would look at to help us consider where we're going with the judgment on this one. We did that. Some of the plays that were brought to my attention don't necessarily hold water in this particular case.

So this stands alone. You have to deal with it separately. Whether it's precedent or not doesn't concern me. Trying to do the right thing is what we did here.

Q. Always in these cases there's a hearing. The player who might get suspended gets his say. Did what Aaron had to say influence you at all? Does it rarely happen that it influences or a lot of the times?

MIKE MURPHY: Yes, it does influence you. To what degree, I can't reveal that. But he was apologetic and contrite. They're two great qualities, because a series ago Aaron Rome was picking himself up off the ice with a concussion from a hit in a San Jose game.

I have a lot of compassion for what he said. Had a lot of feeling for what he said. I did take it to heart.

But I don't think it changed my mind a whole lot.

Q. The suspension, will it have any effect on Aaron having that moment if the Canucks win for Aaron to get on the ice and lift the Cup?

MIKE MURPHY: No, no. He won't be in the game. He'll come on the ice after the game's over.

Q. The fact it's the biggest stage, did that make it tougher coming up with this decision?

MIKE MURPHY: No. I think it's the right decision. It had nothing to do with the stage. It's the play. The play speaks for itself. We assess the play as I described to you. It was late and it injured a player, it injured him severely. We review the medical report. I spoke with the medical people in Boston this morning.

It doesn't look good for Nathan right now to come back and play in this series. The play speaks for itself.

Q. When Colin stepped down a week ago, Gary alluded to the fact there would be sort of a harsher standard imposed for discipline. I'm wondering, in this particular case, was it that standard that was applied to this hit? 

MIKE MURPHY: No, no. This is my standard. I was given the responsibility to deal with this series. Brendan will take over next year. He'll have a group of people that are his confidants.

I was told, "You have to take care of this series if something like this happens, it's your responsibility." I have to look at myself and make sure I'm doing the right thing because I know the severity of what we've just done there.

I know the severity with Nathan in the hospital and Aaron Rome not being able to play in the Final. So this is mine, no one else's. I've learned a lot of this from Colin Campbell. I've learned some of it from talking with Brian Burke over the years when we've had issues I had to deal with. But this is mine.

Q. Do you think if you had suspended Alex Burrows for the finger incident with Bergeron, other things could have been avoided?

MIKE MURPHY: I don't know that. We made the right decision on Alex Burrows. I spoke with Alex. But I'm not here to speak about that. I've dealt with that. We've moved on past that. We will deal with the issues of the series, the chippyness that's going on.

Kris King is in charge of the series. We've addressed it. We've addressed it with the teams as early as this morning. I will be speaking with both general managers and coaches before the day's over about what we are seeing, the garbage that is going on, some of the issues.

Q. You mentioned the injury a couple times. It wasn't a Rule 48. Can you talk about in a situation like this balancing intent with effect and that the length of the suspension should line up with the period of injury for Nathan?

MIKE MURPHY: I don't know how long Nathan Horton is going to be injured for. If I had my way, Nathan would be back in the games. I'm not sure I'll get my way.

But the suspension was what I felt. When I looked at it, it's what I felt. It's not what my whole group felt. In the end, when we go to an individual like Colin Campbell, we say this is two, three or four, he has to stand in front of you people and make the call.

I had to make the call. I was given good information by all of my group, all the people in Hockey Operations, and I made the call. It stands on its own. I keep saying that. I don't want to get away from the hit. I'm only here because of what went on. I don't like it and I wish I wasn't sitting here, but I am.