Lemieux rips NHL response to Friday night fights
New York Islanders' Micheal Haley, left, and the Penguins' Craig Adams fight in the first period of Friday's game in Uniondale, N.Y. Both players drew penalties.
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NEW YORK -- Mario Lemieux, a Hall of Fame player and co-owner of the Penguins, is one of the most celebrated figures in National Hockey League history.
Sunday, though, he effectively threatened to sever his ties to the league because of its handling of the mayhem during the Penguins' 9-3 loss Friday night to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in Uniondale.
That game produced 346 penalty minutes and resulted in three players, one of them Penguins right winger Eric Godard, being suspended.
Mr. Lemieux's prepared statement, as issued by the team:
"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.
"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."
Mr. Lemieux, who co-owns the team with California billionaire Ron Burkle, did not elaborate on what actions he felt the league should have taken, and it is impossible to say how serious he might be about walking away from the game.
This is not the first time he has expressed frustration with the way rules are interpreted and enforced, however. During his playing days, he famously labeled the NHL a "garage league" for just that reason.
Mr. Lemieux, who rarely speaks publicly, was not available to elaborate on his prepared remarks.
"The statement speaks for itself," said Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications. "He won't be doing interviews."
Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, responded to a request for reaction to Mr. Lemieux's statement with an e-mail that read, "We are entirely comfortable with how Friday night's events were handled. We have no other response to Mr. Lemieux's statement."
Other owners and management figures around the NHL declined to comment on Mr. Lemieux's statement or did not respond to requests for comment.
While Mr. Lemieux is sure to receive support for his stance in some quarters, critics likely will point out that not only are the Penguins the most-penalized team in the NHL, but two of their players -- Mr. Godard and left winger Matt Cooke -- currently are serving suspensions for on-ice actions, and that Mr. Cooke is widely regarded as one of the NHL's dirtiest players.
Mr. Godard's 10-game suspension was automatic, because he left the players' bench during an altercation.
Late Saturday night, the NHL handed down three other punishments, all to the Islanders:
• Forward Trevor Gillies was suspended for nine games for driving an elbow into the head of the Penguins' Eric Tangradi, causing an apparent concussion. Mr. Gillies will lose $24,193.53 in salary.
• Forward Matt Martin was suspended for four games for attacking Penguins center Max Talbot from behind, and will forfeit $41,585.36 in pay.
• New York, as a team, was fined $100,000.
Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations, said New York was fined because "the Islanders also must bear some responsibility for their failure to control their players."
Islanders general manager Garth Snow suggested during a session with reporters Sunday in Buffalo, N.Y., that Mr. Lemieux wasn't the only one who has issues with how the NHL handled the situation on Long Island.
Predictably, though, his view was diametrically opposed to that of Mr. Lemieux.
"When I saw the suspensions on both sides and the fines, I was a little surprised that it was just our club that got fined," Mr. Snow said.
Mr. Snow, a former Penguins goalie who told Newsday he wouldn't comment on Mr. Lemieux's statement, also made it pretty clear that he had no problem with the way his team comported itself against the Penguins.
"I would never criticize what Colin Campbell has to do -- he's in a tough situation -- but I will say that I'm very proud with the way the team competed," he said.
Mr. Snow also took a not-so-subtle jab at Penguins coach Dan Bylsma because Mr. Godard left the bench while a fight was in progress.
"I'm very proud that our team showed restraint," he said. "That no one left the bench to create a bench-clearing brawl scenario."
Mr. Snow is, to this point, believed to be the only figure associated with either team to suggest that the Islanders showed "restraint" at any point during the game Friday.
First Published February 14, 2011 12:00 am