Mario Lemieux Is Right. Lock Up The NHL’s Bad Guys and Toss Away The Key

At first blush, it would appear that, yes, Mario Lemieux is very much a pot calling a kettle black in his scorching indictment of namby-pamby NHL officials who carry the portfolio of slapping wrists.

Lemieux, after all, has in his employ the contemptible Matt Cooke, a reckless, ruinous rogue who has left a trail of fallen foes in his ransacking wake, most notable among them the multi-concussed Marc Savard, a player of high skill who might never again suit up for another National Hockey League assignment due in large part to an unpunished cheap shot to the head delivered by the aforementioned Cooke late last season.

So, if Lemieux, part-bankroll of the Pittsburgh Penguins, truly desires that the NHL adopt off-with-their heads sanctions against the league's beastly boys whose thuggish behavior is boorish at best and criminal at worst, his side of the debate would be much more credible and palatable were he to point an accusing finger at his own resident ruffian.

But, no. As so many people have properly pointed out, Lemieux does not demand NHL wrist-slappers become iron-fisted ayatollahs when it comes to his charge, the disrespectful Cooke, whenever he goes off the rails. Apparently, only those dastardly New York Islanders warrant ant-crushing actions.

We know this because Lemieux said so in the aftermath of the WWE-style madness that was on display last Friday night, when a series of events seemingly scripted by master of mayhem Vince McMahon unfolded.

To recap, the Isles and Pens went all Hulk Hogan and racked up 346 penalty minutes, 10 game banishments, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts. As a result, Islanders forward Trevor Gillies, who assailed Eric Tangradi in a brutish attack, was told to go away for nine games. Teammate Matt Martin has been excused for four matches. And Eric Godard of the Penguins will be sitting in the press box and eating popcorn for the next 10 games because he left the bench to engage in a fight.

Oh, almost forgot: The Islanders were also fined $100,000 for their role in this "Back to the '70s retro night."

None of this punishment impressed Lemieux.

"The NHL," he said in a statement, "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."

Yes, Mario Lemieux threatened to take his puck and go home.

Not surprisingly, media, fans, players, management and fellow owners have taken the legendary Hall of Famer to task for his remarks, branding him a hypocrite of the highest rank and suggesting he's lost the plot. After all, if he happily pays Matt Cooke's salary, how can he condemn others who employ back-alley thugs?

But those people miss Lemieux's point. This isn't about signing Matt Cooke's paycheck then turning a blind eye toward his repeat offender's on-ice felonies.

If anyone were to take a sober second look at the Lemieux squawk, they would realize that he wants the NHL to deliver harsher punishment to the miscreants who turn the game into a Rodney Dangerfield joke or deliberately attempt to wound an opponent. And I assume that to mean Lemieux does indeed include his very own Cooke, who, when last seen, was attempting to scramble Fedor Tyutin's brains and, therefore, was put in dry dock by the league for four games.

That's why I'm fully on-side with Lemieux on this issue.

Cooke should have been banished for at least 10 games, not four, as a result of his attack on Tyutin. Next time he does something similar, take Lemieux's advice and add another five games on top of the 10. Hit him where it hurts. In the wallet. Losing wages will always get an athlete's attention. If not, it will surely attract the attention of his wife.

Godard, meanwhile, should have been told to go away for the remainder of the season, plus the playoffs, for racing off the bench to involve himself in fisticuffs against the Islanders. There should be zero tolerance for such neanderthal behavior. Seriously. You come off the bench to fight, then you're done for the season. Period. And the team is fined $100,000.

So, you see, we should be here to praise Super Mario, not bury him. He has told his fellow owners that it's time to lock up the bad guys, even his own bad guys, and toss away the key.

I like the world according to Mario.

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