June 7, 2011

Suspension of Rome a tough decision for Murphy, but the right one

by Jesse Connolly

A linesman escorts Aaron Rome off the ice after he was tossed for his hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3. (Getty)

BOSTON -- You can call it setting a precedent. You can say it was a chance to lay down the law. For Mike Murphy, the NHL's senior vice president of hockey operations, it was simply about making the right decision when it came to the punishment of Aaron Rome.

The Canucks defenseman will be ineligible to play in the remainder of the Stanley Cup Finals, as he was suspended for four games for his late hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3 at TD Garden on Monday night.

Prior to speaking with the media on Tuesday afternoon, Murphy already knew that the Bruins had announced Horton would miss the remainder of the Finals due to a severe concussion, as the winger left last night's game on a stretcher before being sent to a nearby hospital. The injury admittedly played a role in Murphy's decision.

"I thought it was a late hit," Murphy said. "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."

While Rome was indisputably guilty, that didn't make the verdict any easier to come to for the league's interim disciplinarian.

"Aaron Rome is an important part of the Vancouver team," said Murphy. "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."

Murphy stressed that he didn't want to elaborate on what the length of the ban might have been if the hit had occurred during the regular season.

"My number is four," Murphy simply stated. "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."

And in doing so, Murphy made the wise move of making sure that the Bruins won't have to worry about exacting revenge on him any time in the near future, as anything short of four games could've left the door open for the blueliner to return later in the series.

Murphy made Rome just the fourth player in league history to be suspended during the Stanley Cup Finals, all of which have occurred in the past decade as Jiri Fischer became the first in June of 2002.

Adding a name to such a short list wasn't a decision Murphy came to hastily. Given the severity of Horton's injury on the play, Rome's blatant violation of the NHL's rules and the fact that the NHL badly needed to avoid any sort of pandemonium breaking out if the Canucks blueliner was back in action before next season, however, only a fool would believe that Murphy didn't make the right choice.