Pittsburgh Penguins' Owner Mario Lemieux Calls out Gary Bettman and the NHL

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Pittsburgh Penguins' Owner Mario Lemieux Calls out Gary Bettman and the NHL
Harry How/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux rarely speaks to the media, but when he does, it sure makes the headlines.

On Monday, Penguin fans were thrilled to learn that Sidney Crosby participated in a 15-minute skate and felt fine afterwords.

Crosby wasn't the only member of the Pens organization who caused a stir in the media, as Lemieux made headlines by sending a message to the NHL about discipline int the NHL.

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun unveiled a letter written by Mario Lemieux to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the topic of discipline, which you can read at ESPN.com: 

"On behalf of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, I am writing to propose a discussion by the Board of Governors and general managers about the NHL's current system of supplementary discipline -- and how it affects not only the integrity but the perception of our great game. 

The current system punishes the offending player but does very little to deter such actions in the future. We need to review, upgrade and more clearly define our policies in this regard, so that they can provide a meaningful deterrence and effectively clean up the game.

While there have been 50-plus suspensions since the start of the 2009-10 season, the suspensions themselves don't seem to be deterring these illegal acts and tactics," wrote Lemieux.

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"And we've often seen repeat offenders. We think it is time that teams also are held accountable for the actions of their players. We propose instituting a policy of automatically fining a team when one if its players is suspended -- with the amount of the fine based on the length of the suspension. This should serve as a disincentive for teams as well as players to employ these kinds of tactics."

Lemieux suggested fine amounts based on the length of suspension to the player:
• 1-2 games--$50,000 fine to team
• 3-4 games--$100,000 fine to team
• 5-8 games--$250,000 fine to team
• 9-10 games--$500,000 fine to team
• 11-15 games--$750,000 fine to team
• More than 15 games--$1 million fine to team

 Lemieux then went on to say "If a player is a repeat offender during that season, the fine to the team would double. Please note that if this proposed system were in operation today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been fined $600,000 this season because of recent suspensions to two players. We all have to take responsibility if we are going to improve the game.'"

When Lemieux spoke out about the Islanders/Penguins game, some called him a hypocrite because he employs Matt Cooke, who many consider one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. This letter should stop that talk.

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Now, things might have went over a little better PR-wise if Mario would have had something like this prepared and ready to go at the same time he spoke up about the Islander game last month. He would have avoided the (justified) PR massacre he took for slamming the Islanders while ignoring the role his team and players have in all that is wrong with the NHL.

However, I like the idea of fining the team for a player's actions. I'd also like to see a team get penalized by having some variation of a shortened roster if a player gets suspended. If a guy like Trevor Gillies gets a four-game suspension, make the Islanders dress one less player for maybe their next four games. Shortening a team's bench for a couple games would certainly hit home with the coach, who would be less likely to dress a minor-league goon if he has one less roster spot for that night's game.

I also like the "eye for an eye" idea. If a player is forced to miss games due to an illegal hit, that player responsible shouldn't be able to play until the injured player does. If the offending player is a worthless thug like Gillies, and the injured player is either one of the affected team's top three scorers, or a top three minutes defenseman, the offending team must also sit a player whose stats and value most match the injured player's stats.

Think about how that would deter a player like Gillies if he knew not only would the team be affected financially, but he would be responsible for another of his team's players not playing. That would be a fun locker room. 

Furthermore, if a player seriously injures another in the act of a committing a penalty (whether it’s a trip, interference or a high stick) and that player is forced to miss games as a result, the guilty player is given an automatic four-game suspension regardless of whether there was intent to injure or not. That mean’s Chara’s interference penalty is no longer just a “hockey play” like supporters of goon hockey like to see it.

Sorry, but if Chara wasn’t breaking the rules to begin with, there is no injury, and I can’t believe people don’t want to see the logic in that.

Lastly, a lot of people will disagree with this, but the NHL needs its star players to be healthy and playing. They need Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, etc., to be healthy and playing at a high level if the sport is going to excel in the United States. 

Which makes perfect sense for Lemieux to be the one to say all of this. He was a superstar player who had his career shortened because of health problems, some of which were caused by unnecessary plays that he was involved in because he wasn't protected on the ice. 

 

This article also appears on the Pittsburgh blog www.412sportstalk.net. You can follow me on Twitter at   www.twitter.com/madchad1187.

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