Mario Lemieux: Why He Spoke Out and Where the NHL Goes from Here
Friday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins traveled to Long Island to face the New York Islanders for the first time since the notorious goalie fight that left Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro with a shattered face.
This time was even more eventful than last. There were a combined 346 penalty minutes during the game, including 15 fighting majors, 20 misconducts and 10 ejections. Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson got his second fight as well.
In the aftermath, the NHL suspended three players. The Penguins' Eric Godard received a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to join the brawl. New York Islanders Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin were suspended for nine and four games respectively for targeting defenseless players.
Additionally, the New York Islanders were slapped with a $100,000 fine for failure to control their players. The Pittsburgh Penguins organization did not receive a similar fine.
There has been plenty of criticism to go around about the teams, players, the league and fighting in general after all that hoopla. Sunday, Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux joined the discussion, releasing a statement criticizing the fight and the league for its handling of it.
Lemieux has received his fair share of criticism after making the statement. Here are the top 10 reasons the typically quiet Lemieux made his statement.
Mario Lemieux Is a Voice of Reason
Everybody had an opinion about the fight and the reaction to the fight. The media calling out the NHL will not yield the result that we need.
However, perhaps the great Mario Lemieux can knock some sense into the league.
Lemieux has a great reputation in the league, from being a classy player to the classy owner that saved the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise from moving to Kansas City or elsewhere.
If Mario Lemieux says there are things that need to change in the NHL, people will take heed.
The Pittsburgh Penguins Needed to Save Face
After the fight, a lot of people are starting to look poorly upon the league and the two teams in particular.
The NHL made its decision to place the majority of the blame on the New York Islanders, but the public recognizes the Penguins' role as well.
Lemieux isn't very outspoken, but when he is, people listen.
By demanding that the NHL do a better job of "defending the integrity of the game," Lemieux is trying to salvage his franchise's reputation.
Response to New York Islanders GM Garth Snow
The fact that the New York Islanders were fined and the Pittsburgh Penguins were not annoyed Islanders GM Garth Snow.
He said he was surprised to see that only one of the clubs was fined but is accepting it graciously, rather than fighting the league on it.
Snow also mentioned that he was proud of his players for showing restraint. What he means is that none of his players left the bench to join the brawl.
Clearly, a misguided statement like that needed the response that Lemieux delivered.
To Try to Return the Game to How It Used to Be
Mario Lemieux pointed out that what happened on Friday night shone a poor light on the sport.
“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."
No one can argue with that.
Lemieux is making the statement that there is place in the league for physicality, but what happened on Friday was not it. That was not fighting—that was pure stupidity.
When All Else Fails, Threaten the League
“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.”
Basically what Mario Lemieux is saying is, "Straighten up or else."
This isn't just directed at the league. It is directed at the teams and players in the league as well. A strong statement like that may be just the final straw needed for some change to occur.
The Pittsburgh Penguins should straighten up at least if they know what's good for them.
What's Next for the NHL?
Mario Lemieux put his opinion out there in his statement. Now, it's in the league's hands to deal with the issue.
Don't hold your breath.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly released the league's response, saying that he's content with the league's handling of the issue through the suspensions and fines doled out.
To sum up, the NHL didn't do anything wrong here, so nothing will change.
Why Was the NHL So Lenient and Unbalanced in These Suspensions?
Eric Godard received a mandatory 10-game suspension because he left the bench. If that rule wasn't already in place, would he have received fewer games, like Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin received?
Here's a thought: Was the NHL actually upset at Friday night's events?
Think about it. Sidney Crosby, the face of the league, is out with a concussion. Evgeni Malkin, another league superstar, is out with a knee injury. Alex Ovechkin, the other league superstar, isn't setting off the same fireworks he's set off in years past.
Was the NHL happy for the attention this garnered, even if it was negative?
This fight received extensive exposure on the sports highlight reels and constant exposure online.
Just a conspiracy theory to think about. Perhaps the league doesn't intend to do anything further because they're happy with the exposure the league receives from these types of hits and actions.
Fighting in the NHL
There have been some arguments questioning the role of fighting in the league. The current league officials seem to want to do away with fighting.
They instituted the extra "instigator" penalty as an attempt to reduce fighting because it would put one's team at a disadvantage.
Now, there are more questions about the role fighting plays in the sport. Lemieux seemed to speak against that with the part about how hockey is always going to be a physical sport.
If anything, this incident should change the way players fight. It used to be that two guys would drop the gloves and square off against one another in a fair fight. None of that sucker-punching a defenseless opponent.
That's how fighting in the NHL was meant to be.
Anticipation of the Next New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins Matchup
The next Islanders-Penguins matchup is on Friday, April 8. Suddenly what seemed like just another division game at the end of the season becomes one of the most anticipated games of the rest of the year.
It's a perfect opportunity for the NHL to capitalize on the suspense and televise the game nationally.
Will either of the teams retaliate after this incident? It remains to be seen.
It will likely be much more toned down to avoid supplemental discipline. However, we can probably expect regular fights between team enforcers.