Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi $50,000 Poorer, NHL Remains Unquestionable

Erik PaulCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2011

Source: Getty Images/Andrew Bernstein
Source: Getty Images/Andrew Bernstein

It was 0-0 during the second period of Thursday night's game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes when Coyotes center Martin Hanzal "scored" the game's first goal with a blatant high stick.

The on-ice officials immediately called it a goal, which isn't a big problem, because at game-speed it's easy to make a mistake.

The problem came after that, when the video review team in Toronto, led by NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy, came to the ruling that the call on the ice should stand and the goal would count.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi was understandably livid after the game, and was quoted on the Kings' website as saying, "When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the GM's job in L.A. and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls.

"However, we have put ourselves in a position where these calls have a monumental effect on our season, and we're going to have to find a way out of it ourselves."

The goal he's referring to in Ottawa was a tip by Ryan Smyth (see video), that would have tied the game with three seconds remaining.

The commentators in the video both thought it was a good goal, as did everyone on the Kings, but the video review team called it off, claiming to be a high stick making contact with the puck.

If that was a high stick, I'm not quite sure how Martin Hanzal's could possibly not be a high stick.

This afternoon, news came out that the NHL has fined Dean Lombardi $50,000 for his comments.

"There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for commentary challenging the integrity of the League's Hockey Operations Department in general or Mike Murphy, in particular," Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

"People can disagree with a call by an official on the ice or an official in the Situation Room in Toronto, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Lombardi did."

This is absolutely ridiculous. It's time for Mr. Bettman to man up and temper his blind allegiance for league employees.

If Lombardi deserves a $50,000 fine for his comments, then Mike Murphy deserves a $100,000 fine for blowing such an obvious call.

Later this afternoon, Lombardi issued this apology: "I spoke to the commissioner today and he made it very clear to me that my actions last night were inappropriate and detrimental to the game.

"There is no question that his assessment is correct and the punishment fits the crime. Just as important, I apologized to Mike Murphy this morning and I sincerely appreciate his willingness to accept my apology."

Now, I understand that Lombardi should apologize for insinuating that Murphy is intentionally blowing calls because he's upset about not getting Lombardi's job as Kings GM, but he certainly shouldn't apologize to the NHL for being "detrimental to the game."

Lombardi is the only person in this whole situation who isn't being "detrimental to the game," as he's the only one willing to speak up about a horrible mistake.

Where are Murphy's and Bettman's apologies for clearly making the wrong call?

Where is the apology to the Kings organization for potentially costing them the game?

Oh wait—we're discussing the always perfect Bettman and NHL.

This kind of sham is part of what makes so many people question the integrity of the league.

I'm reminded of last season in Major League Baseball, when a blown call on the final out cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

That was a much closer call than the "goal" last night, and wasn't subject to video review. But Major League Baseball and the umpire who blew the call, Jim Joyce, both took the high road and did what was right: They apologized to Galarraga and the Tigers for making the wrong call.

The Tigers fans appreciated this so much that Joyce, the former villain, was given a standing ovation the next game for admitting his mistake.

That's exactly how it should be. Officiating mistakes and human error will never be completely removed from sports—but they can be handled properly, as the MLB has demonstrated.

The NHL, and Gary Bettman in particular, need to stop trying to be an unquestionable dictatorship, and admit when they're wrong.

Hockey fans around the league will be eternally grateful if or when that ever does happen.