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Mario Lemieux’s letter to Gary Bettman calls for teams to be held accountable for suspended players

Mar 14, 2011, 8:41 PM EDT

garyandlemieuxap AP

Following the fight-filled, controversial February 11th game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, Mario Lemieux and the Penguins released a furious statement critiquing the way the league handles suspensions. For many, the statement was an example of the “pot calling the kettle black” considering the fact that the Penguins employ repeat offender and widely reviled pest Matt Cooke.

The Cooke-related calls of hypocrisy clouded what was a perfectly reasonable hypothesis: that the NHL isn’t doing enough to deter general managers from simply calling up a borderline player who do little beyond fighting and potentially injuring legitimate skaters.

After all, do you think the New York Islanders really cared that they lost Trevor Gillies for nine games? Even if it seems like a harsh penalty for Gillies himself, he could probably live with it because he ultimately did more or less what was asked of him. That’s all a goon can really hope for, right?

Interestingly enough, Gary Bettman’s five-point plan included one interesting idea that might eventually make Lemieux happy. Here’s that point:

The Board will be approached to elevate the standard in which a Club and its Coach can be held accountable if it has a number of ‘repeat offenders’ with regard to Supplementary Discipline.

While that ruling would be nice, it doesn’t really provide much in the way of specific details. For instance, how will the league “elevate the standard” in which teams and coaches will be held accountable?

One week ago, Lemieux sent a letter to Bettman that underscored the fact that he feels the league needs to do a better job holding its teams accountable for the actions of individual players. In fact, he even gave tangible suggestions for what kind of fines a team should pay. (Source: Pierre LeBrun of

Lemieux, in his letter last week, suggested fine amounts based on the length of suspension to the player:

• 1-2 games–$50,000 fine to team

• 3-4 games–$100,000 fine to team

• 5-8 games–$250,000 fine to team

• 9-10 games–$500,000 fine to team

• 11-15 games–$750,000 fine to team

• More than 15 games–$1 million fine to team

“If a player is a repeat offender during that season, the fine to the team would double,” wrote Lemieux.

It’s one thing to shame a team with a suspension, but adding a wallet-related insult to that pride-related injury could do a better job of deterring the shameful hooligan action. Sure, when a player like Todd Bertuzzi (in his prime, in Vancouver) gets suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs, it hurts his team badly. But the only way to make a suspension to a marginal player such as Gillies actually make a difference to anyone except Gillies is to make sure his team regrets it on a deeper level.

And before you jump on Lemieux again for Cooke being a member of the Penguins, he made this last point.

“Please note that if this proposed system were in operation today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been fined $600,000 this season because of recent suspensions to two players. We all have to take responsibility if we are going to improve the game.”

It’s great that the league is engaging in wider discussion of these issues, especially when figures such as Lemieux suggest black-and-white solutions.

What do you think about his suggested fines? Do you think they would make a difference in reducing ugly on-ice incidents? Would those fines be too light, too harsh or just right? Let us know in the comments.

  1. crosbyhasgonorrhea - Mar 14, 2011 at 9:18 PM

    I had a lot of respect for Mario as a player and then as an owner for saving that franchise. That said, the guy employs Matt Cooke who may have ended Marc Savard’s career. Since then, Cooke has continued in his cheap shot ways. I can’t really respect Mario on this issue when he isn’t even taking issue with his own players for cheap shots that are putting great players out of the game. Sorry Mario, but maybe you can look in the mirror and take some karma credit for Sidney (and no, the Steckel hit wasn’t intentional).

    • wowreallyok - Mar 14, 2011 at 11:45 PM

      Uhh…did you even read the article…?

      Also, saying that Crosby, undoubtedly one of the best players in the world, deserved to be hit like that and taken out of the game for months is some of the poorest form you could speak with. No one deserves that. Also, Cooke could have ended Savard’s career – but he didn’t. And he hasn’t done anything like that since the incident. I admit he surely has his dirty moments, but he’s far from the dirtiest in the league. No one ever seems to mention just how dirty Ovi plays…

      Bonus: Chara just broke a kid’s neck. I don’t want to hear anymore B’s fans or defenders of Savard calling the kettle black ever again after that one. And that organization is always getting away with hits that end in injury. Then they use the “it was a legal hit. he didn’t intend to do it.” stance when people criticize them. So, if that works, then you can’t complain about Cooke. It was legal at the time. He didn’t mean to do it, either. You can’t have it both ways.

      • stakex - Mar 15, 2011 at 1:00 AM

        wowreallyok, you MUST be a Pittsburgh fan. Only a Pit fan would blow so much smoke in their favor as you just did. A couple of the things wrong with your post:

        1. Cooks hit almost certainly DID end Savard career. Did you see the few games Savard has played since then? Hes not at all the player he was, and is almost certainly going to retier after this year. Yes hes taken a hit since then that gave him yet another concusion… but only an idiot would think the second concusion isn’t a direct result of the first.

        2. Cook has had a handful of questionable hits already this year, as well as being suspended for 4 games. He hasn’t done anything bad since then?? Thats an out right lie that could only come from the mouth of a fanboy.

        3. Did you honestly just try to say Matt Cook is a cleaner player then Ovechkin? What did you smoke before your post? Sure, Ovechkin has had a handful of “over the line” plays in his career… as have most great players. Hell, I could make you a clip show of questionable hits and out right slew foots by Crosby and Malkin over the years. But to suggest Ovechkin is a dirtier player then Cook, shows a complete lack of hockey knowledge on your part… and is perhaps the more ignorant thing I’ve heard in a long time.

        4. Yes, Chara seriously hurt someone with a poorly timed hit. It was not an intentional hit to the head… it was a standard hockey play that happens 30 times a game. This time it just happened in the absolute worst place. So really I fail to see what a bad luck play involving a Bruin player has to do with Matt Cook INTENTIONALY hurting Savard, and as mentioned, ending his career. Again… simple fanboy mumbling.

        5. What Cook did was not legal at the time. Intent to injur was never legal in the NHL… but Bettman wasn’t going to have a set of balls when it came to his good pal Marios team.

        6. I don’t think the above poster ment that Crosby got what he deserved. Rather he was implying that it was Karma biteing the Penguins from re-signing Cook after what he did.


        Next time you post, do the world a favor and get your lips of Pittsburghs butt, and post with some rationality.

      • iaintafrate - Mar 15, 2011 at 12:54 PM

        Wowreally, what a yahoo you are…Comparing Chara’s hit with Cooke’s is beyond idiotic…Was Chara’s hit…from behind? did he leave his feet? target the player’s head? No, it was a legitimate hockey play that had an unfortunate outcome, but it is part of the game. Most experts and the league agree that Chara’s hit was more a result of the poor stanchion design that any malicious intent on Chara’s part. Cooke’s hit was illegal/suspendable, not because of the head shot rule, but because there was clear intent to injure, as well as Cooke’s long history of cheap shots. Chara has NEVER been suspended in his 14 year career. Also, Cooke’s style of play has not changed since the Savard hit, just ask Fedor Tyutin. All you have to do is watch the 2 hits and use a little common sense. Clearly that is too much to ask from someone wearing their Sidney Crosby footie pajamas with black and gold pompoms. Pathetic little yahoo.

      • botlecap - Mar 15, 2011 at 3:35 PM

        cook could of hit savard body on body and sent him flying, like you see in any other open ice hit. if you have ever seen video of it, then you must know that he clearly only desired to hit his head. he didn’t skate at and into him, he skated in front of him and made sure just to contact his head. he had plenty of time and several strides to pull it off and line it up. he even had time to avoid hitting savard, and he make no effort to do that.

        that kind of thing and that kind of player don’t belong in the league.

  2. joepags - Mar 15, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    all i heard was waaahhhhh,waaaaahhhhhh,aaawaaaaaahhhhh.

  3. crosbyhasgonorrhea - Mar 15, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    I’m not saying or suggesting Sid deserved the concussion. Crosby helps the NHL, and I’m all for anything that is good for the game. I’m saying that Mario probably should be focused on other issues – like cleaning up his own house. Mario already has a 10 game offender in house (what Eric Goddard did earlier this season would have cost Mario 500 g’s according to his plan) and he is paying another guy taking out good players. Guys like Cooke and Goddard can do nothing but hurt hockey.

    What Mario is suggesting is that the 500 g’s would be a deterrent to players and provide some accountability to the team. Its hard to believe that when Mario isn’t holding his own team accountable for what they are doing. You can’t blast the rest of the league when the team you own is one of the biggest collective violators.

  4. ndrdog - Mar 15, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    Yes, only a completely crystal clean owner could possibly suggest any type of plan to help the situation. The fact that Lemieux dealt with this as a player and now has to as an owner puts him in a very unique position that no other owner is in. The NHL’s #1 player has been out of the game for some time because of dirty hits and I hear suggestions that Lemieux as an owner jettison any type of protection his star players have in the current system. He put himself in a position to buy a NHL team because he is intelligent, not by being a nice guy.

    Matt Cooke – Please remember this is the guy who when he was with the Canucks scored the tying goal in game 7 with 5 seconds left in 2004 against Calgary before they eventually lost the game in overtime. In the 2010 playoffs he scored 4 goals, 2 coming in game 6 against the Senators. This is the type of clutch player who you love if he plays on your team and hate if he doesn’t. Yes, he is an agitator, but dirty, I would have to agree with an earlier post that asks about Ovechkin. I think this is a case of media hype. Two of the worst that come to mind are when “Ovi” stood over Jamie Heward as he was loaded on a backboard and put on the stretcher after “Ovi” drilled him from behind, of course leaving his feet to do it. The second was lining up Sergie Gonchar who was turning at the time, so he couldn’t see it coming, and #8 turned into the turn while extending his knee to ensure the hit which destroyed Gonchar’s knee. This seems to be one of “Ovi’s” favorite move as he uses it more often than any other player that I have ever seen.

    • dwightbuttz - Mar 15, 2011 at 3:51 PM

      Another Shittsburgh crybaby….to even suggest the Ovi is a dirtier player than Cooke is insane and shows how much of a complete IDIOT you are. I’m not saying that Ovi hasn’t been involved in some questionable plays, because he has, but none even close enough to throw him in the same boat as that low-life shitbag Cooke. And by the way, Crosbys not out because of a dirty hit, he’s out because of not paying attention to where he’s skating. Just because Cindy was daydreaming about dudes and ran into Steckel does not mean its Steckels fault. Maybe Cindy will learn to keep her head up next time. I think someones just bitter over that Caps 10-0-2 domination over Shittsburg the past 3 years.

  5. ndrdog - Mar 15, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    WOW- bitter much? I wrote a distinct, fact filled post that expressed my position. You blathered an insult filled rant that would make any fourth grade boy proud with its literary quality. I was only using Ovechkin as an example because he had already been mentioned on this blog. If you can lost the time that players have lost due to injury directly linked to Matt Cooke and it’s over that of the same result for Ovechkin then, I guess, you will have proven your point.

    Once again – read my main point! Requiring anyone to be perfect to be able to make a suggestion on improving something is the only way to guarantee that things never improve.

  6. derpdederpdederp - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    i hope bettman takes his advice. after matt cookes latest escapade it looks like mario is gonna be out $1 million thanks to his own advice

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