Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Did Auger "Get Back" at Burrows?

After the Predators 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks last night at GM Place, forward Alexandre Burrows went ballistic, claiming that referee Stephane Auger told him before the game that he was going to "get him back" for embarassing him (Auger) in an earlier Predators Canucks contest.

To recap, Predator forward Jerred Smithson was given a five minute major and a game misconduct for apparently boarding Burrows. Replays showed Burrows lying on the ice looking around until Auger skated over, when he feigned his injury resulting in the penalty. The League office, upon reviewing the replay, rescinded the misconduct penalty against Smithson.

There are a number of variables and unknowns at play here, and a tremendous amount of speculation as to what will be the outcome of a League investigation into the claims by Burrows. As it stands now, there is a "she said (Burrows)/he said nothing (Auger) situation. However, I think it is instructive to look at this from several perspectives.

The League office obviously reviewed the situation that was mentioned above regarding the Smithson/Burrows contact and subsequent misconduct penalty since the League rescinded (after the fact) the misconduct call against Smithson. One could reasonably surmise that Auger was critiqued, perhaps severely, for his call in that game.These critiques go in to an overall evaluation package for officials that determines their opportunity to continue to work in the post season.

So let's assume that Auger was called on the carpet by Terry Gregson, the Director of Officiating. Was it painful? Embarassing? Undoubtedly. Will it have an detrimental impact on Auger's ability to work in the post season? That is unknown. This is just one game in the body of work that is the season for an official.

However, when you look at the full body of Auger's work, you see an official that has been no stranger to controversy. He was the official that disallowed a potential game winning goal by the Red Wings in a game earlier this year. He accused Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan of using an ethnic slur offensive to Fench Candians in a game and gave him a game misconduct. And these two participants have crossed paths before, as Auger threw Burrows out of a game last season in Montreal.

So you have an official that has been involved in controversy, and he is going to go to a player with whom he has had run-ins before and forewarn him that he is going to "get him back" for embarassing him on a call? Look, Auger is human and obviously doesn't want to be shown up and remembers past slights, but is he going to jeopardize a career to get retribution against a player for one call? And tell him he is going to do so? Frankly, it just doesn't make sense.

Burrows is not the innocent victim in this situation, either. Sure, he embellished the play in December that got Smithson ejected. Burrows has been known to take cheap shots at other players heads, as he did last year when he ran J.P. Dumont. Bob MacKenzie of TSN calls Burrows "Sean Avery lite", and this is an apt description- a player that agitates but won't back it up with his fists. Burrows is yappy and annoying and I'm certain he has drawn the ire of not only opponents but officials as well. And when you have a reputation for being a pest and being yappy, sometimes officials watch you just a little more closely than they would other players (right, Mr. Tootoo?).

The final aspect of this game that should be brought out is that both Auger and fellow ref Dennis LaRue, uh, what is the technical term I'm looking for... oh yeah, sucked. These guys had some pretty shaky calls, and I'm being generous here. The tenor of any game can be controlled by how well the officials do their job, and last night both teams suffered because of questionable officiating.

So did Auger target Burrows and get him back for an earlier embarassment? On the surface, it doesn't look good for Auger, but once the bile from Burrows has subsided, enough questions emerge to cast doubt on the veracity of his statements. Was there an element of emotion on the part of Auger? I think so. Did he tell Burrows he was going to get him. I would be shocked if he did. Did he get him back? In my opinion, no.

What this incident points out is that an official that is consistently involved in controversy and controversial calls should be monitored closely by the League and an attempt made to improve performance. The League should also be honest and get those officials out that cannot, for whatever reason, perform at the highest level that this beautiful game demands.

It also points out that if you have a reputation, as Burrows does, of being an agitator-lite and taking liberties on the ice, expect to have extra attention paid to the way you play the game. If the officials call it a little more closely against you, remember that you bought that ticket. And if it is found that you fabricated this story, your suspension should be long and painful.

If it is found to be true that Auger had a vendetta against Burrows and did indeed "get him back" with phantom calls, he should be removed from the game. That is an intolerable situation.

It is imperative that the matter be resolved quickly. The League does not need to have every controversial call questioned by fans, wondering if there was an ulterior motive for the call. This great game needs fans to enjoy the speed, grace, and power that is on the ice every night in arenas all across the league free from worry about agendas deciding outcomes.

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