Bettman rules with an iron fist


NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made his first disciplinary ruling yesterday, and, in the words of Washington Capitals general manager David Poile, it appears the "past is past."

Bettman handed out the longest suspension in NHL history for an on-ice incident -- 21 games to Capitals center Dale Hunter for a blindside hit that dislocated Pierre Turgeon's shoulder in Game 6 of the first-round playoff series between Washington and the New York Islanders.

"I think this is a clear message of his tolerance," said Poile. "What remains to be seen is whether suspensions of this length will be the norm for the future. You have to have some system in place, for everyone, dealing with various and different actions that take place on the ice."

Bettman's action was swift. He was present at the nationally televised April 28 game in which Hunter checked Turgeon from behind, crashing him into the boards and causing the injury that has sidelined Turgeon indefinitely. The commissioner immediately called for a hearing in his office the next morning and suspended Hunter indefinitely in the afternoon. He promised a definitive ruling on the length of the suspension by Friday and delivered three days early.

Yesterday, Bettman said each situation will be dealt with independently. But he left little doubt about whether the Hunter ruling was an aberration or a warning.

"Under my watch, this is how we're going to deal with such incidents," he said. "We are going to discipline in the Dale Hunter mode, not the prior mode. Everyone will be held accountable for his conduct."

Islanders general manager Don Maloney, who initially had called for a one-year suspension for Hunter, said last night that his club was "initially disappointed" that a stronger message wasn't sent.

"We have to support [Bettman's] decision," said Maloney. "But is it enough of a deterrent? I'm not sure. But let's keep our fingers crossed. We're all trying to sell our game. Unfortunately, we got tremendous exposure out of this incident, for all the wrong reasons."

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