For all the impact that hockey's culture of violence had upon that night, the event, finally, comes to this: Intentionally or not, McSorley bludgeoned Brashear, who might have died. "I still get headaches; I still get tired," Brashear said by phone last Saturday night from Vancouver, where he had just assisted on a goal in the Canucks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. "I want to put this thing in the past, but it keeps following me. You never recover 100 percent from a thing like that."
"Donald never asked for this to happen to him, and I bear him no ill will," says McSorley. "I'm not comfortable with what happened, but I am comfortable with what I intended to do." The two have not spoken since the blow, nor do they intend to.
The McSorley matter is the highest-profile disciplinary case of Bettman's eight years as commissioner, and he has seized upon it to render a punishment unprecedented in its severity. "If this is interpreted as raising the bar," Bettman says, "that's all right with me."
It's not all right with everyone. "Marty should have been reinstated last week," Ian Pulver, associate counsel of the NHL Players' Association, said on Friday. Then Pulver, stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the union, alleged that Bettman may have had a motive stemming from McSorley's activism during the 1994 owners' lockout. "Marty was a vocal leader on behalf of the players in '94, and he was involved in many disputes with people on the other side, including Gary," says Pulver. "This probably has an impact on Gary's dealings with Marty."
Bettman calls Pulver's allegation "insulting."
Hockey players have been clubbing one another since the game began, and there have been numerous indefensible fouls during Bettman's regime. McSorley's punishment resulted partly from his status as a repeat offender and partly because of what his hit on Brashear wrought. In the words of New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather, "The image of Brashear lying on that ice had a lasting effect on all of us."
Bettman, who rejects the suggestion that McSorley's court appearance put "hockey on trial," takes the opportunity to make a larger point. "This decision will constitute an important statement about the game itself, and, more specifically, why parents should be comfortable knowing that their children can play hockey," Bettman writes in his ruling.
"That really makes me shake my head," says McSorley. "I'm with kids all the time."
McSorley had surgery to repair his left shoulder last March, and since then he has kept himself in excellent condition. While some players have distanced themselves from him, many would welcome him back. "We treat him the same as we always did," says Kings defenseman Rob Blake, who skates and plays beach volleyball with McSorley. "A lot of us would like him to come back and end on a good note."
Whether he would be effective after missing a full year is uncertain. Would any team take the public relations gamble of signing him? While several general managers—including Sather and Boston's Mike O'Connell—speak favorably of McSorley's ability, they stop short of saying they would sign him. "Marty's more melancholy than he used to be," says John Silva, 38, a neighbor of McSorley's. "You'll be talking to him on the street, and you can see he's distracted."