Devil’s Advocate

Mario Lemieux has every right to say whatever he wants about the state of the NHL whenever he feels the need to. He had every reason to complain about the physical nature of the game and the need for a change in the way the game is called and played back in 1999, and his past grants him the ability to do the same today. His time as an NHL player dazzled, amazed and left us wondering how he possibly found the strength to come back from debilitating cancer treatments and excel at such a high level. He scored nearly 700 goals, almost 2000 points, and had two comebacks. If Wayne Gretzky is the Michael Jordan of hockey than Mario is Magic Johnson. With such an illustrious career and now a co-owner of one of the top teams in the NHL it would be hard for the executives to discredit or ignore anything that Super Mario says. He felt his team was slighted, and the NHL didn’t do enough justice to the Islanders. If he can’t speak up for his team, who will?

Eric Tangradi lies motionless on the ice after a barrage from Gillies

Mario Lemieux needs to shut up. His time as a hockey all-star is done. How many other owners do you see whining and complaining about the state of the game? That’s right, none. He is upset because his team had to deal with an unhappy Islanders squad who’s goalie, Rick Dipietro, just recently had his jaw broken because he took a goalie fight against Brent Johnson, the pens goalie, to be a joke, yet Johnson did not.

Everyone loves a goalie fight, except Dipietro's jaw

Maybe the Islanders are upset because their past few seasons haven’t been exactly what they had wanted, or maybe the players are pissed because their “franchise goalie” is an idiot and they felt the need to take out a little frustration on the currently star-less Penguins. If he’s upset about that, or that the league has turned into a brawl sometimes, than he should fire Matt Cooke and free up a roster spot for a player who plays his brand of hockey. Lead by example.

A one hundred thousand-dollar fine to an organization is pittance, a four game suspension for Matt Martin, who tried to sucker-punch Max Talbot, is an absolute joke, and a nine game suspension for Trevor Gillies, who was clearly trying to hurt Eric Tangradi, is a travesty. The NHL had the opportunity to send a clear message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and they clearly forgot to do so. If they want the NHL to resemble the Federal League and the Islanders to resemble the Charlestown Chiefs then they are on the right track. If they want the NHL to showcase the best hockey in the world played by the best players than they better do something to clean up the game. Matt Cooke can’t be taken off the roster because without him how are the stars for the Penguins supposed to protect themselves?

Matt Cooke

Enforcers are always a part of a team’s make-up. They are used to keep the ice clear for the skill guys, and every now and again they need to remind people that they are there. Cooke doesn’t sucker punch people, he makes sure they are looking first.

Hockey games have the tendency to get out of hand, especially in the third period of blowouts when there is bad blood between the two teams. Take the ass whooping and roll to the next game, there is no need to publicly complain that you didn’t like the suspension length for the players. This is hockey, not figure skating, and the players have spent their entire lives playing it. They know what they’re getting into when they step onto the rink. The last thing the NHL needs at this point is one of, if not the most highly recognized owner of one of their most marketable franchises publicly complaining about the way things are done and threatening to leave if things don’t change. The NHL is the fourth biggest sport in the United States, and you can make a case that its fifth if you consider driving a car to be a sport. How can we remedy that problem? Create positive publicity for it, not drive a stake through the heart of it and turn off potential fans because things didn’t go the way you like. Do you know how many people watch wrestling, MMA and boxing these days? Think about the heights the league could reach if they tried to market the toughness of the sport as well as the skill.

Crowded penalty box, eh boys?

Mario’s comments clearly brought to light the fact that the NHL’s suspension policies regarding fighting, sucker punching, third man in, jumping in from the bench, and intent to injure calls are ridiculous. They should be redone and hopefully his comments are the added push that the executives need to change things up. The last time Mario complained he got his wish, seven years later, so perhaps he will be luckier this time around and won’t have to wait as long. The way to build hockey is not to make it look like a wrestling ring, instead teams should be put in hockey hotbeds. How is hockey supposed to compete in Arizona, Florida, and Columbus?

Hockey isn’t going to change because Mario threatened to leave if it doesn’t. Why should it? True hockey fans love the sport the way it is. It’s not just a brawl, the fights are calculated most of the time and usually have an order to them. The players are tough and the checking can be fierce. There doesn’t have to be ring ropes around the boards for people to appreciate that part of the game as well. The game itself is made up of so many entities, why can’t all of them be marketed? Maybe more people in a different area would be more inclined to watch a game or two. Give it a shot. If you want to change the game, do it from the inside out. The fans, who don’t have the direct line to the executive offices, know that, why doesn’t Mario?

Love the column? Hate the column? Feel free to let me know, or send me a comment on twitter, @adamholman225

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    • Rachel’s Cottage House
    • February 15th, 2011

    Great post, and a lot of valuable information. As a person very closely linked to the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise and its players, I know what goes on behind the scenes. It’s been a rough past month for me; considering all the injuries sustained from the players. It’s extremely difficult, and I live with it. As for Mario’s statement, I completely agree with him, and back him up 100%. I believe he is simply standing up and saying exactly what is going on, without any added fluff for the media. And yes, I also agree that if he needs to throw in a threat, such as considering not being a part of the NHL, so be it! Maybe it will knock some sense into their heads, and stop making games turn into a schoolyard of brawls. Yes, hockey does have fights, and it’s a part of the game; it should be. But, there is a fine line; and it was crossed. When the third period becomes nothing but a stop and go match of very little play, but a bunch of punches – that’s not hockey. As for the Penguins situation in and of itself, it’s almost like a victory if we can walk away from a loosing game with no new injured players. And with a very dear player out with a serious injury for the past month, I don’t want to have to deal with more stress over the lineups. I just want everyone to return healthy, and for the NHL to figure it out.

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