St. Louis president John Davidson has accused Red Wings owner Mike Illitch of breaking the rules after hearing that the latter talked to the officials between the second and third periods of Thursday night’s game, according to Ted Kulfan. Davidson, who did not see it himself, told the St. Louis Dispatch,
“We have more of a concern about the owner of the Detroit Red Wings going down to escort the officials off the ice to their dressing room during the second intermission. That’s more of a concern that defies the spirit of the game. We think as an organization that that was wrong. A Hall of Fame owner decides to have a conversation with the officials during a game. It’s our opinion that’s not right.”
Davidson would not say whether or not he believed Illitch had attempted to influence the referees, even though the Blues had four successive penalties in the first 10 minutes of the third period.
The matter is being reviewed by Colin Campbell, the League VP, who received a report from referee Kerry Frasier after the game, writes Jeremy Rutherford of the Dispatch. Apparently, Illitch approached Frasier and the other referee, Chris Rooney, just before they took the ice for the third period, and asked them, “politely,” about a hit, which the officials were already looking at. The “hit,”, as Rutherford points out, was most likely that which Dallas Drake laid on Brett Lebda late in the first period. The hit went unpenalized at the time, but Drake was suspended two games on Friday after the League reviewed it.
If Frasier’s report and Campbell’s recounting of it are to believed, Davidson was incorrect about Illitch going with the officials to their dressing room between the periods. It would seem he is also wrong to say Illitch broke any rules, as the Dispatch quotes Campbell as saying, “We have a standing rule that managers and coaches are not allowed to go to the officials room. He did not go into the room.”
I personally have no problem with Illitch approaching referees in such a manner, especially if he was asking about the Drake/Lebda hit. Davidson perhaps cannot understand it, but the Wings have had two players taken out this seaon because of headshots, and if Mike Illitch wants to talk to the officials about a play that endangered another one of his players, he should be able to.
Campbell says they were already reviewing the play, but that does not automatically mean punishment was guaranteed to be dealt out, as we recently saw with Alexander Ovechkin’s brutal hit on Daniel Briere. Ovechkin, aside from being ejected from the game, got away nearly scot-free (he may be fined more than the automatic $100), a decision likely driven more by revenue concerns than anything else. With Ovechkin set to play Sidney Crosby in a much publicized game on Monday, the League couldn’t have one of their two best young stars just coming off a suspension, could they? Even if he literally almost killed a fellow player.
If the results of similar plays earlier this season say anything about the likelihood of punishment in the NHL today, Drake may very well have gotten away with that hit had Illitch not approached the officials, even if the League was already planning on looking at it. Two other instances of headhunting Wings have gone without penalty, despite the fact that they caused injury.
After the Drake hit, Lebda was a little woozy, but he returned to the ice seemingly none the worse for wear in the second. So, if the League isn’t going to suspend players for hits that cause injury, why would they for a hit that didn’t? Illitch’s comments to Frasier may have been necessary, sadly, just as Babcock’s may have been.
If Davidson is implying that the Illitch somehow either influenced Frasier and Rooney to make pro-Wings calls, he’s being ridiculous. It’s insulting to the officials, for one thing, and deflects blame from his players, who earned what they got, for another. However, Illitch may have had something to do with Drake’s suspension, which should have been coming to him anyway because there’s no place for hits like that in the game.
Davidson should be more concerned with his 7-16-4 team’s place in the standings than with Mike Illitch’s effort at looking out for one of his young players.