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Mario Lemieux’s message to the NHL both right and wrong all at once

Feb 13, 2011, 10:30 PM EDT


When the NHL handed down their punishment for what went down on Friday night at Nassau Coliseum between the Penguins and Islanders, I opined here that while the punishments were severe for the Islanders and for Eric Godard of the Penguins, the NHL seemingly had their hands tied by trying to figure out how to best punish players for the Isles that they weren’t going to miss in the first place.

When Penguins legend and owner Mario Lemieux issued his tersely worded takedown of the NHL for what he felt was the league’s failing to do the right thing and punish the Islanders harder for failing to set an example for how to best protect the other players in the league, the reaction to Lemieux’s words across the hockey landscape was wide ranging.

Nick Cotosonika of Yahoo! Sports said that Lemieux’s words smacked of hypocrisy. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy said that Lemieux’s point is true and that his take on what’s ruining the game has never wavered over his career as a player and now as an executive. Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly echoed Cotsonika’s thoughts in that what Lemieux says rings hollow because he employs noted dirty player Matt Cooke.

If you missed out, Lemieux had this to say about the NHL’s handling of the situation:

“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be,” Lemieux said in a statement. “But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.  We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.

“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

Lemieux’s takedown has full and complete merit when it pertains to the situation at hand.

The Islanders were dead wrong with how they decided to go about seeking retribution for what they felt was a dirty hit on Blake Comeau by Maxime Talbot. It’s very difficult to ignore the elephant in the room, however, when it pertains to the guys that he employs in the Penguins locker room. Like it or not, Lemieux’s silence when it pertains to Matt Cooke is a similar problem.

If Lemieux’s takedown of the league also includes the punishments given out to Cooke for his malicious actions in the past then all is well and Mario’s words stand out as strong as ever coming from an icon of the game.

Instead, we’re left to assume that Lemieux is looking past the problem child in the Pens locker room and that when Cooke goes out of his way to deliver a knee-on-knee hit to Alexander Ovechkin, charges Fedor Tyutin from behind, or makes it a point to nearly take Marc Savard‘s head off that Lemieux is all right with that because Cooke is a good player on his own team.

If Lemieux would open himself up to questions to get to the bottom of his statement to make it abundantly clear who he’s addressing then we’d know just how big of an advocate for player safety he really is. Instead, Lemieux comes off as an angry owner advocating from the bully pulpit that problems only exist when his team is victimized. If that’s what it is in this situation, that’s selfish.

We can take what Super Mario has said and apply it justly, however. Loading up your lineup with thugs to engage in a virtual riot on the ice is no way to go about solving problems and GM Garth Snow doing that on purpose is horrible. If the Islanders are that bothered by what happened, crushing the Penguins on the scoreboard should’ve been message enough for their liking. Seeking redemption through blood and violent disgusting acts taking out players at will is 1,000 kinds of wrong and Snow essentially condoning Gillies’ actions against Eric Tangradi is proof enough as to why the organization was fined $100,000.

Don’t get lost in the discussion here. The Isles are wrong. Wrong in every way possible for what they did. Lemieux coming out from behind the desk to issue his statement made it clear that he’s not happy with how the league is conducting business and that’s good. Given how the league has handled their way of punishing players that have run afoul of the law Colin Campbell and the rest of the front office need a wake up call like that.

We just hope that if/when a Penguins player is put under the microscope that Lemieux will accept the punishment delivered by the NHL and say that while it pains the team it’s best for the league. Otherwise his proud stand ends up just being selfish grandstanding in order to catch a break. That’s not the Mario Lemieux we want to believe in as fans of him and the sport, we’d rather he be Super Mario and do something to affect change for the good of the game.

  1. logi82 - Feb 14, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    Good Mario sell your shares of The Penguins and go back Canada get yourself a pee wee hockey club. Your team has some of the worst offenders of cheep shots and dirty play in the NHL and your club is protected by the evil empire Bettman, Campbell, plus every two bit referee in the league.

    Just to recap: Your coach plays Johnson who injured the Islanders DiPetro a week earlier most likely to stir the pot; plus your coaching staff could not keep a player from jumping off the bench to engage in a fight and your franchise receives no monetary punishment. Now you have the balls to cry about Friday nights game as if your beloved Penguins were some how wronged?….puke.

    Your bellyaching against the team with the most man games lost to injuries in the NHL. Let’s make a deal If you renounce your ownership and sell your team I will stop watching NHL Hockey. After all I don’t want to be a fan of a league with an inept officiating staff. upper management with selective bias to it’s playoff birth teams and owners who cry about punishment’s in or not in their favor.

    Come to think of it Mario doesn’t putting your two cents into Bettmans punishments warrant a $50,000 fine? L.A. Kings GM ring a bell? Oh that’s right… punishment for all just not for the Penguins. Way to set up a consistant precedent NHL brass. Why was the Habs and Bruins WWF match last week no problem and healthy for the league?

    • Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Feb 14, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      Why was the Habs and Bruins WWF match last week no problem and healthy for the league?

      Campbell hit a sweet leg drop on Suban. After that Suban nailed him with the Peoples elbow and finally the refs broke it up by giving each the Million Dollar Dream.

  2. PCa Survivor - Feb 14, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    I find it unconscionable that two players whom the league found guilty of “deliberate attempts to injure by delivering blows to the head of players who were unsuspecting and unable to defend themselves” received less punishment than a player who was guilty of a technical rules violation. I support a 10-game suspension for Godard because “rules are rules” but the heinous actions of the two Islanders call for more than a player who came to the aid of his teammate.

  3. facemaskplease - Feb 14, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    Aside from your reference to the Talbot hit on Comeau, I agree with everything you had to say, totally. I think the retaliation, however, was for the injury to DePietro that occurred in a fight with Johnson during the previous game, which was more reminiscent of Johnson vs. Willard than anything else, but in this case DiPietro is about 5’6″ and not 6’6″, hence he got clocked, big time. I am a hockey fan for over 50 years, and I still don’t understand why fighting is allowed in hockey, period. If Mario Lemieux is a hypocrite and selfish, this makes Mr. Bettman and Mr. Campbell, Claude Kirshner and Clowny. More than a wake up call is needed for these two and the League in general.

    However, your article does not go far enough, and perhaps you will follow up with what the league “needs to do.” I will look forward to that, since something needs to be done now. The game was changed for the better, after the strike, but something has happened. The refs can’t keep up with the game or they too have been confused by Campbell. No one seems to know anymore what a “charging” penalty is, or a “boarding” or “checking from behind.” When the “Face of Hockey,” Mr. Crosby, is on the side lines with concussion symptoms, and any sympathy for him almost seems undeserved due his own chippy play, we only can wonder if things could be worse.

  4. joepags - Feb 14, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    really mario??? didnt the pens lead the league in PM for fighting? or in PM period? $100 thousand is a huge fine for a team, especially for the islanders!! i wonder if the pens got the fine if he would consider it hefty? i watched that game and find it hard to believe the pens got away scott free. mario, you have been hanging around crosby too much!

  5. skimmer0220 - Feb 14, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    “If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

    Good take you’r sunglasses and get the hell out of the league, your entire team is dirty starting with the cry baby of captain you employ

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