After many NHL games, coaches criticize referees in postgame comments without any recourse from the League.
But when that game is the 2012 Winter Classic, there's more scrutiny. When that criticism is theorizing about a conspiracy between the on-ice officials and the NBC to extend the game into overtime with favorable calls for the losing side … well, then the League really takes notice.
Even if his criticisms were valid and his accusation was intentional exaggeration, New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella was still fined $30,000 by the NHL on Wednesday for his post-Winter Classic conspiracy theory -- despite a rather robust apology.
In the press conference room at Citizens Bank Stadium in Philadelphia, after the Rangers' Winter Classic victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, Tortorella blasted the officiating in the third period with hyperbolic aplomb, wondering if referees Ian Walsh and Dennis LaRue were working in concert with NBC to orchestrate an overtime while calling their work in the game "disgusting."
It wasn't exactly a joke. There was no wink, no grin. But it wasn't exactly serious either. It was an attention-getting tactic to draw attention to injustice.
It was also directly linked to an earlier question given to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist about the penalty shot the Flyers received late in the third period:
Q. Henrik, a lot of people who watched this game nationally don't watch a lot of hockey. You mentioned before you were surprised they called the penalty shot; do you think part of that might have been to add to the drama so people who don't watch this game will have something more to talk about it?
LUNDQVIST: Maybe … that's the only reason why he called it.
That led to this from Tortorella:
Q. Hank said that, especially the penalty shot, that they could have been made for the event.
TORTORELLA: "I'm not sure if NBC got together with the refs to turn this into an overtime game ..."
"It started with the non-call [when] Gabby was pitch-forked in the stomach, and then everything starts going against us. They're two good referees; I thought the game was refereed horribly. So I'm not sure what happened there. Maybe they wanted to get it to an overtime. I'm not sure if they have meetings about that or what. But we stood in there. They're good guys. But in that third period, it was disgusting."
On Wednesday, Tortorella was in full apology mode:
From that apology:
"Because I knew it was tongue in cheek in my mind, and the people that were there, at least, I thought they felt the same thing, no, I regret it but I don't think it was going to turn into something like this. But it bothers me that I'm using the word 'disgusting' with the two guys because I really thought they reffed a good game. I had frustrations at the end and that's what came out there.
"I've talked to everybody I can, including Paul Holmgren with the Flyers. That was a first-class operation, that Winter Classic and I screwed up with my mouth at the end and I regret and I apologized to the people all involved with that."
The apology, of course, was unnecessary. The officiating in the Winter Classic was sub-par in the third period. His "conspiracy theory" about NBC was for shock value and deadpan humor; his theorizing about the referees' officiating was sarcastic.
But criticism of officials and the League's broadcast partners on a grand stage like the Winter Classic just will not stand, so Torts is out $30K large.
(Wonder if Steve Yzerman even received a phone call when he said VERSUS criticized the Tampa Bay Lightning in their game against the Flyers because both are owned by Comcast?)
From the NHL:
"There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for commentary challenging the integrity of the League, its officials or its broadcast partners," said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. "People can disagree with calls by officials on the ice, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Tortorella did."
Yes, how could anyone possibly believe the officiating in the NHL was agenda driven or infected with favoritism?
Unless, of course, they've read Campbell's emails.
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