Brian Burke offered injured player Steve Moore an opportunity to resume his hockey career while both sides were still embroiled in a lawsuit in Colorado, according to documents obtained by CBC News.
Moore has not played since getting hit from behind by Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi while a member of the Colorado Avalanche in a March 8, 2004 game.
Burke was Vancouver's general manager at the time of the incident, but the Aug. 12, 2005, offer letter was made while he was serving as GM for Anaheim. It was a two-way contract offer that would have paid Moore $475,000 US in the NHL and $75,000 if the player suited up for Portland, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Ducks.
"In my opinion, Steve had progressed to the level of a competent minor league forward who would fill on occasion in the event of injury," Burke said in the letter, directed to Larry Kelly, Moore's agent.
"I would like to give Steve a chance to continue that development into a full-time National Hockey League player."
The offer letter has come to light amid proceedings this week before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Moore, who turned 31 on Tuesday, suffered three broken vertebrae in his neck and a concussion. He is suing Bertuzzi, the Canucks and Orca Bay Ltd., former owner of the NHL franchise.
Tim Danson, Moore's lawyer, told CBC on Friday that far from a bona fide offer, Burke's entreaty was a self-serving attempt to mitigate potential legal damages.
"For Brian Burke to be writing these letters, knowing that Steve Moore wasn't healthy, knowing that he wasn't medically cleared to play hockey — and now we know all these years later he's never been cleared to play hockey again — is really to add insult to injury."
Burke said in the letter he had to come to understand that Moore had made physical progress in his rehabiliation from the hit.
Not so, said Danson.
"Steve Moore's condition at the time Brian Burke made these offers was quite frankly, very worrisome. He had severe head injuries and the doctors were very concerned.
Burke declines to comment
Now general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Burke declined to comment when contacted by CBC Sports.
The legal battle moved to Canada after the Colorado courts threw out the lawsuit in October 2005, citing lack of jurisdiction owing to Moore not having established sufficient residency in the state.
Burke made two more attempts to reach out to Moore with an offer after the initial contact, including once just after the suit was thrown out in Colorado.
Danson also objected on Friday to Moore being considered a minor league player by Burke, stating that the Richmond Hill, Ont., native was playing on the first and second lines with the Avalanche, a first-place club.
That assessment would likely raise eyebrows among hockey observers. Colorado would ultimately finish fourth in the Western Conference that season, which was Moore's first full campaign in the league until his injury.
He had scored five goals and seven assists in 57 games before being cut short by the Bertuzzi hit.
The genesis of the brutal hit dated back to an earlier game when Moore raised the ire of the Canucks for hitting Vancouver captain Markus Naslund while he was in a vulnerable position
"I think it's a marginal player going after a superstar with a head-hunting hit,'' Burke said at the time.
The return encounter had newspaper headlines predicting a physical battle, although Naslund said publicly beforehand that he didn't want retaliation.
"When he plays, every time he's on the ice, everyone on our team will know," Canucks player Wade Brookbank told the Vancouver Sun the day before the fateful game. "We may not go crazy, but he'll know we're there."
Burke's offer letter for Moore to join the Anaheim organization is dated just four days after the NHL reinstated Bertuzzi. The player would ultimately serve a 20-game suspension.
Criminal charges filed against Bertuzzi in Vancouver resulted in a guilty plea and a sentence of one year's probation plus 80 hours of community service.
Bertuzzi, 34, went on to represent Canada on the 2006 Olympic hockey team.
It was a contentious decision, and one that stung Moore personally, he told CBC's The National later that year.
"When you are picking an Olympic team, you are picking people that represent your country and what your country is all about for the world to see," Moore said.
Bertuzzi is now in his second stint with the Detroit Red Wings.
The suit has pitted Bertuzzi against his former coach Marc Crawford to some extent. Bertuzzi said in a statement of claim that the Canucks coach told the team during the second intermission of the game that Moore "must pay the price", with Crawford countering that the Vancouver forward acted in "direct disobedience" of the bench.
Moore's brother, Dominic, played on the Maple Leafs last season — Burke's first in Toronto — although he was later dealt at the trade deadline to Buffalo.