Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 02/13/11 at 06:49 PM ET
Hockey legend and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux dropped an unexpected bomb on the New York Islanders and the National Hockey League in the wake of suspensions and fines announced stemming from Friday’s night at the fights between his Pens and the Isles. In short, “Super” Mario whined in print to anyone listening that if the league doesn’t start X, Y and Zing to his liking, he might just take his ball and go home.
Sound familiar? It should, of course, considering this is the guy who once dubbed the NHL a “garage league” in the early nineties, as obstruction was on the rise, and swore he was close to retiring at that time because of it. (He didn’t, remember, not right away anyway and wouldn’t have for some time, if not for illness and injury.)
The game these days, without the hooks and holds that Lemieux once complained of is probably better, as a whole, but there are some who will argue that a little of that here and there, perhaps, might prevent some of the more serious injuries and questionable hits we seem to see every other game now. Case in point, a defenseman in pursuit of the puck in his own end is often a sitting duck for approaching forecheckers these days, with his partner unable to hold up the opponent in any way, shape or form as he once was.
That example carries some weight here only because Lemieux’s comments today centered around player safety, after New York’s Matt Martin suckered Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot and teammate Trevor Gillies took out Eric Tangradi with a head shot/flying fists combo.
One has to wonder, then, a few things:
A) Does Lemieux forget that he employs one Matt Cooke,
the NHL’s most guilty party in terms of headhunting, a lack of respect for the well-being of opponents and consistently filthy play, currently suspended himself (aaaaaagain) for a vicious run from behind on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin?
And B) What more, exactly, did Mario want the league to do?
Gillies was hit with a nine-game suspension for his actions of Friday night and Martin, four. The two players will forfeit more than $65,000 in their absence while the Islanders organization was also taxed $100,000.
The vile antics of the guilty Islander parties were met with well-deserved and sufficient punishment. All involved should have then been able to move on.
But Mario’s power play is on, it appears.
Upon further examination:
“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. 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.”
Surely, some - some - of that pain had to come from having to swallow a 9-3 loss to the lowly Islanders. Much like Penguins’ defenseman Kris Letang’s postgame moaning regarding Friday’s events, whether or not these comments ever would have been made if Pittsburgh had been on the upside of a six-goal victory has to be called into question.
“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.”
These incidents pale in comparison to so many others in recent years when that message could and should have been sent. Cooke’s name, time and again, would emerge in that conversation, for starters.
This portion of Lemieux’s statement hints at lengthy, groundbreaking suspensions and fines. There’s no excusing what Gillies and Martin did but these two are way down the list of posterboys for that cause.
“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.”
Again, what did he expect? Nine games is no slap on the wrist. Nor is four for what Martin did.
“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.”
So, Lemieux’s going to sell his stake in the Penguins then and leave the NHL behind forever when, say, Cooke returns, railroads another unsuspecting opponent and isn’t kicked out of the league for good – his “clear and strong message” warning having been further ignored?
It certainly doesn’t have to be Cooke. A Phoenix Coyote could do the same to a Dallas Star before the season is out, with no message to Lemieux’s liking sent then either, and you wouldn’t see Mario bidding adieu to the Pens.
His statement today does nothing to tarnish his legend as one of the game’s all-time greats – top three, if this voice had a vote – and a two-time savior of the Penguins franchise.
But it does come across as nothing more than whiny drivel.
Suspensions were dealt out, fines levied. Nothing further, this statement included, was necessary.
And as long as Matt Cooke is part of his very own organization, Mario Lemieux should not speak again on anything regarding the integrity of the game and the safety of its players.
Glass houses, Mario.
That is all.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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