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Alex Burrows'(notes) accusation that referee Stephane Auger threatened him with retribution before last night's Vancouver Canucks game and "targeted" him with 16 penalty minutes is under investigation by the NHL, and it's a pretty thorough one: The League initially anticipated the release of a statement this morning on the controversy, only to push it back indefinitely.

The evidence is pretty damning for Auger, both in his notorious history as an NHL official and in the video clip by Sportsnet that confirms a pregame meeting between Burrows and the official. However, we're in he said/he said territory with the player and the ref right now, and the NHL is going to have a hell of a time figuring out where the truth lies. Hence, the investigation continues.

If we hear anything today, it may just be a general acknowledgement of the controversy and the NHL's looking into it. The Canucks don't play again until Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild; if Burrows is fined for his candid comments on Auger, it may not even be publicized before that game.

(There's a chance that Burrows won't be fined if his statements are accurate; but as we've written about before, there are also a litany of ways the NHL can fine him for this public flogging of an on-ice official, which is a mortal sin in Bettman terms.)

Auger, meanwhile, isn't scheduled to officiate any of the NHL's nine games this evening, so his disciplinary action (should there be any) can wait as well.

One last note in this update -- take a gander at Bob McKenzie's take on the Burrows/Auger matter on TSN, as he makes the case for Auger's retribution if Burrows had in fact made him look bad previously:

If Auger was going to put the screws to Burrows, he should have just done it. One and done. Score evened. No words would need to be spoken. Everyone starts with a clean slate after that. I know that view will outrage many and there will be talk about how officials should be above that and the integrity of the game and all.

But the NHL has, to some extent, always been a self-policing league. It happens on the ice between players and it happens on the ice between refs and players and it always has.

Is it conceivable that Auger was embarrassed and maybe even criticized for assessing a major penalty against Smithson on Dec. 8 because of Burrows' acting job? Referees are only human. If a player makes a monkey of a referee, there is going to be a price to be paid. It could come in the form of that player not getting a call when fouled or maybe getting whistled himself on a marginal call. Or both. And maybe for a good, long time. But as long as the game of hockey has been played, there's been a give and take between the players and officials that goes beyond the 'official' channels.

Is Burrows just bringing to light something that's more commonplace in the NHL than we believe it is?

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