NY Islanders News

Mario Lemieux’s Statement, One Islander Fan’s Reactions To It

By John Panarese
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This subject, I believe, is starting to resemble the dead horse in all its beaten glory, yet I still find myself amused, entertained and enraged by the various reactions I have read about the incident that took place at the Nassau Colosseum on Friday during the Islanders/Penguins game.  Since Mario Lemieux decided to weigh in with his own statement to the press, well, I found myself reading it a few times and framing my own reactions to it.  Of course, I understand quite well that Mr. Lemieux will never read my meaningless dribble, but it does me as much emotional “good” to write it anyway.

First, though, I want to be clear that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the NHL career of Mario Lemieux.  He was one of the greatest players to play the game, and if injuries and medical problems had not hampered him, he might have become the “best” we have ever seen of all time.  He tore the Islanders apart on so many nights, and he frustrated the heck out of me.  Nevertheless, one cannot deny the skill of the man and his love for the game.  He is called, “Super Mario”, and I firmly believe he deserves this title.

Obviously, as owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mr. Lemieux has every write to make a statement in reaction to events from Friday.  I would expect him to do so.  As an owner and one who had such a distinguished career, it’s certainly understandable that he’d want to weigh in with his opinions on the events from Friday.  And, of course, such an opinion would and should be given its deserved regard and attention.

I do, however, take issue with a few of his comments, or, at least, I don’t quite fully agree with some of his opinions.  He was “right” in a few cases, though I don’t think my “interpretations” of his accuracy would be his intent of his remarks.  Even so, well, we can agree to disagree, I guess.

Mr. Lemieux’s opening comment, “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”, may be  right, for the most part.  Without a doubt, as far as the modern “image” of the game goes, many would see events from Friday and in the game a few evenings earlier between Boston and Montreal to be “embarrassing”.  Yet, this is only a surface view point.  If you look at it as a “whole”, it’s not the way anyone would like to see a game played every night, and I would never say otherwise.  My “old school” mentality or not, Friday night’s 346 penalty minutes and 11 game ejections between the Islanders and Penguins were far too much to be considered “good hockey”.

Beneath the surface, though, Mr. Lemieux, is the important aspect you seem to miss.  Indignant emotional response aside, the questions and factors that should be considered is what led to Friday and the “why” behind the way the Islanders played the game.  Whether you believe the Isles to have been “right” or not is strictly a matter of opinion, but Max Talbot’s hit on Blake Comeau and the way the Penguin bench mocked the Islanders at the end of the previous meeting in Pittsburgh has to be noted.  On top of that, the leagues overall, “elitist” handling of suspensions and penalty calls in game throughout the season must be brought up too.  Because the Islanders are who they are in the eyes of some, they have frequently gotten the short end of the stick during this season and in the past as well.

Is this an “excuse” for the behavior of some of the Islander players?  Perhaps, but in the grand scheme of things, when does one say enough is enough, Mr. Lemieux?  How many times does John Tavares or Blake Comeau or Frans Nielsen have to be elbowed, roughed up and otherwise abused before the team itself has to step up for itself.  It’s unfortunate that your team had to receive the eruption of emotion that probably has been building up for so long, but instead of blaming the Islanders, maybe, you should take a harder look at how the league has handled things overall as your club has certainly gotten its share of “breaks” the Islanders have not.  I will not stoop so low as to bring up the amazing back to back seasons of having managed to get the 1st round overall picks to snag Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, though some might be quick to imply that league “favoritism” might have been present to save a sinking franchise in Pittsburgh back then.

Mr. Lemieux went on to say, “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.”

OK, so my question, Mr. Lemieux, is what else did you expect the league to do?  Two Islanders were suspended and the Islander organization was fined.  Your team got a simple ten game suspension to one of your players for leaving the bench to join in a fight that only occurred because it’s mandatory in the rules.  If anything, your team should have also received some kind of fine because your coaching staff failed to keep control of your players.  At least, if we are going to use the “logic” of Colin Campbell here, that is what “should” have happened, Mr. Lemieux.

Should Trevor Gillies have received more games?  How about Matt Martin?  Or should Michael Haley have gotten suspended too?  Is that the case, Mr. Lemieux.  Because if it is in your mind, let me remind you that Matt Cooke, a multi repeat offender, only received a 4 game suspension for his hit on Fedor Tyutin when, realistically, by now, he should have gotten more than twice that.  Ask Marc Savard about that point.  And, while I am at it, Mr.  Talbot should have sat out a few games himself, yet not only did the penalty go uncalled when he elbowed Blake Comeau, the league didn’t bother to review the play after the fact.

“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.”

Now, here, we agree on something, Mr. Lemieux.  I completely fall in your camp there.  So, the next time Cooke runs someone from behind, we should see him get, what?  Six games?  Eight?  Ten?  The next time an Islander gets an elbow to the head from a guy who also leaves his skates to deliver the hit, there should be a major penalty and an automatic suspension, right?  Travis Hamonic, you want to step in here and talk about Patrick Kaleta of the Sabres and how he only got a minor penalty?  …..

You see, Mr. Lemieux, that is the problem.  The league is not doing a consistently fair job of administering justice and protecting the players.  What is a  suspension for one guy and team, doesn’t seem to be for another.  What is a penalty one night, isn’t one the next.  Yes, I am aware that there is a “human factor” as far as what a referee might see or not see, but there is a parade of examples to demonstrate the simple reality that the New York Islanders get shafted when it comes to how these incidents are handled.  So please do not whine to me about how you don’t think your team wasn’t protected and how my team didn’t receive enough punishment.  I’m not buying that for a moment, Mr. Lemieux.

Mr. Lemieux finished by stating, “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.”

This, to me, is a bit of an overreaction.  Then again, how many Hollywood big mouths have stated that if this guy or that guy got elected, they’d leave the country, yet, of course, the money is here so they don’t ever do such a thing.  I think, Mr. Lemieux, your reputation and your presence in the NHL would be better served being an advocate for “real change” if that is what you truly desire to see.  Considering that your franchise player is sitting out because of a hit to the head, perhaps, we should all join in the call for fair, consistent discipline and eliminate the need for teams to have to get justice on their own.

Remember the days of “the code”, Mr. Lemieux?  You played during a time that existed.  I think we need to look at the fact that, maybe, we also should not keep wanting the league to be a “nanny state” and also put some of the responsibility on both the players union and the teams themselves to handle these matters as well.  For example, why doesn’t the NHLPA internally fine a Matt Cooke and the Penguins themselves suspend him?  I’m using Mr. Cooke as an example, but I do mean this in regard to any situation of that kind.  There was a time when these head shots and lack of respect were not tolerated by the players.  Maybe, what we saw Friday night was the Islanders falling back to that mentality.  Excuse or not, Mr. Lemieux, one cannot simplify a complicated matter  so dismissively.

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