On Sunday, Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux made headlines by releasing a statement in response to this past Friday's massive brawl-filled game between the Penguins and New York Islanders.
In the statement, Lemieux mentioned unhappiness at how the league handled disciplinary actions for the fight and his displeasure at the state of the league.
Everyone had their own opinion on his statement. One of the players involved in the brawl was Islanders enforcer Zenon Konopka. The league investigated whether his part warranted a suspension as well, but decided it did not.
Konopka did not appreciate Lemieux's statement. He had his own response to 66.
The New York Islanders were in Ottawa Monday to play the Senators. During morning interviews, Zenon Konopka had a lot to say on the fight that everyone is still talking about.
“I can’t believe (Mario) is so far removed from the game that he doesn’t realize in the heat of the moment what happens."
That was Konopka's first statement. Since he is a co-owner of an NHL franchise, Lemieux is really not far removed from the game. However, Konopka is probably not talking about physical distance, more about he's forgotten how the game is played.
In contrast, Lemieux mentioned that hockey is a physical game and will always be. Lemieux wasn't making a blanket statement against fights, retaliation or defending players. He was criticizing the way those were presented on Friday night in Long Island.
“We’re trying to keep our best players on the ice."
That is perfectly understandable, Zenon Konopka. However, since this is so clearly a reference to Rick DiPietro, who is out after his fight with Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson, Konopka should realize that that was a previous game.
The issue now is regarding suspensions. Not to discredit anyone's role on the team, but Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin are not the Islanders' best players.
This statement is a moot point.
"We want John Tavares to be a superstar in this league and play every night."
Did I miss something? How did John Tavares get dragged into this?
I don't recall anyone, Mario Lemieux in particular, saying anything about Tavares or wanting him to not be able to play every night.
While no one is going to take it easy on Tavares, they are also not going to target him unjustly.
"Obviously, we’re going to do everything we can to protect our players in here. It’s not an easy job to do it, but we’re worried about each other, not outsiders.”
Sticking up for teammates is justifiable and even commendable. However, there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to go about this.
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero reiterated and clarified some of Lemieux's points today. One of his points was that if the Islanders were trying to defend their teammates, they should have dropped the gloves, rather than taking cheap shots.
Also, just as the Islanders are worried about each other, Mario Lemieux has a right to be concerned about his players. The Penguins are a little sensitive to headshots, considering that their captain, Sidney Crosby, is out with a concussion.
Watching their players get sucker-punched in the head from behind with no way to defend themselves has to strike a chord with the Penguins.
“As soon as I get home, I’m taking the poster of Mario on my bedroom door down."
I kind of hope he means his childhood bedroom, not his current bedroom.
Mario was a great hockey player that most of today's players look up to, but as a current member of the NHL, it would be a little weird to keep Lemieux's image hanging in his room.
”You look at Trevor Gillies. He’s a first-time offender. He hits a guy, throws a few punches, he gets a nine-game suspension."
I have never understood the argument "but he's a first-time offender." While Gillies may not have a history of targeting the head, that is no excuse for his actions.
Plus, Gillies did a little more than just "hit a guy and throw a few punches." He threw cheap shots that his targets were defenseless against.
"The guy’s got a wife, two kids and plays in the East Coast Hockey League and AHL most of his career and now he’s going to lose $35,000. And it’s not right. Obviously, the league has their job and not mine, but in here, we feel for him. It hurts not to have Trevor in lineup for nine games. It hurts me, personally, my buddy, out $35,000.”
That's touching. That's a genuine statement from me, if you're reading that and are unsure. I feel bad for the guy and his family too. It's nice that Gillies has a supportive teammate and friend. I respect that Konopka feels that way about his teammate.
However, once again this doesn't excuse Gillies' actions. What about the player who went down from Gillies' head shot? Sure, Eric Tangradi is young and doesn't have a wife or kids yet (that I am aware of).
However, every injury, especially to the head, jeopardizes a players' future. Gillies was jeopardizing Tangradi's future and livelihood, his ability to provide for himself and his family. That fact should not be minimized.
“Montreal and Boston, they play a game and it’s great old-time hockey, it’s ‘wow, this is awesome, the rivalry'. Then we have a game and now we’re getting crucified for it."
Zenon Konopka seems to be confused about why people are upset. People are not upset over the fights. People are upset about how the fights started.
New York Islanders players Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin started their fights by throwing cheap shots. If they had instead dropped the gloves and asked a nearby player to go, this wouldn't be a problem.
"We’re doing everything possible to keep guys in the lineup, to fight for points, to do everything we can to win hockey games and everybody keeps taking shots at us. Talk to our trainers (about) how many man games we’ve lost. We’ve lost 360 games to injuries and now we’re getting crucified because we’re trying to have some retribution for a couple of our guys getting knocked out. It’s tough for us to deal with.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins understand that frustration this season. Their star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are out with injuries and were out for that game.
It can't be said enough: Retaliation is to be expected, but it should be done in an acceptable manner. The way the Islanders decided to handle it was unacceptable.
To sum up, Zenon Konopka is throwing stones from his glass house.
While it is admirable that Konopka feels the need to defend his team and teammates, he's not exactly a credible source.
Plus, the shots at Mario seem unfounded. Yes, Mario had a lot to say, some of it overdramatic. However, his statements seemed to be more of a reflection on the league than on the Islanders organization alone.
If Konopka is trying to start a fight with Mario Lemieux, that's a fight he's going to lose simply on reputation alone.