League VP Burke likes rough game But he'll crack down if rules are broken

October 03, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

NHL vice president Brian Burke, the man in charge of league discipline, likes physical hockey. He says watching the European-style game is about as exciting "as watching a dog take a nap."

Burke said hockey "is a man's game," and NHL fans like physical hockey.

"I hear people say they like European hockey, the finesse," Burke said. "I've seen European games in which both teams had shot totals under 20. European hockey lacks the sustained intensity and pressure of the North American game. [In the NHL], the oohs and the ahhs come after goals, but they come after big hits, too."

But wait. That doesn't mean Burke -- the man in charge of cracking down on violence in the NHL -- advocates the style of play that has come to be known as goon hockey. His directive from commissioner Gary Bettman is to cut out the cheap shots. The league is determined to clean up the violence and the stickwork that is not part of the game.

"I don't like stickwork," Burke said. "I don't like fouls after goals. I don't like fights in between periods or under the stands. I don't like the side show. But I do like physical hockey."

He sounds a little like the elementary school teacher heard in a recent commercial: "Stay within the lines. The lines are your friends." In this case the translation is: as long as the players stay within the rules, they will not be hearing from Burke.

"For instance, if Craig Berube gets decked early in the game and later on he decks the guy who got him -- which I'm sure you'll see Craig Berube is good at that -- he's not going to be in front of me as long as it is a legal check. If he responds outside the rule book, I intend to crack down on it."

Bettman and Burke have only the thinnest of guidelines: discipline will be swift and fit the crime.

During a recent conference call, Bettman said arrangements have been made for game tapes to be on Burke's desk the morning after every televised game. If a game is not televised, the process will be slowed by a day for courier delivery.

"This isn't like a traffic violation, where you get a point on your record for turning left on red or three points for speeding," said Bettman.

Burke has been directed to watch four types of conduct: that not covered by the rule book, such as players fighting under stands or in hallways; that covered by the rule book, but which is excessive; careless use of a stick; and accidental injury to another player.

In any of the above situations, retribution will be swift.

"I know going in not many people are going to be very happy with my rulings," Burke said. "All I can do is try to instill what my instructions are from Gary Bettman: speed, fairness, some level of predictability and flexibility to allow for all the different factors. I think the severity of the injury is very relative."

Burke repeated that he is in agreement with the 21-game suspension given to the Capitals' Dale Hunter at the end of last season.

"I would have loved to have had Dale Hunter on my team when I was a GM," said Burke, a former general manager with Hartford. "I tried to get him, but David Poile wouldn't let him go. But in no way can I condone that incident. In my opinion at that moment, in that game, Dale Hunter lost his senses and what happened was unforgiveable.

"My advice to players is that they should view the Dale Hunter suspension as very real and very possible in the future for similar conduct. In fact, I would not hesitate to impose a greater penalty, if the situation was worse. . . . There is no limit. I can see a guy getting half a year for the right -- or the wrong offense, I guess is the better term. So I think players should be very cognizant."

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