Sitting here and reflecting on the three-ring circus that is the Pittsburgh Penguins game against the Philadelphia Flyers, I can’t help but wonder how long until Mario Lemieux writes another open letter to the NHL. For those of you who don’t remember, the Comeback Kid got on his soap box last February to complain about the state of the NHL after his team was part of an all out brawl against the New York Islanders. I've finally reached my limit. I'm no longer keeping my mouth shut when it comes to him. Things must change!
While I think that was nothing short of hypocritical, not only is in the NHL’s responsibility to have control of the game, it is also his job. After all, he’s the one who signed Matt Cooke as he was in the middle of his headhunting streak for 3 years $5.4 million. Lemieux is clearly all about making sure the NHL is “protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.” How can you make this proclamation while Cooke is on your payroll? And don’t tell me “Cooke’s a changed man”. One clean season does not wipe away his history and doesn’t guarantee a clean future.
Since this letter to the NHL, the Penguins have been part of two more all out brawls on the ice. You can’t tell me you’re all about player safety when your team is part of these Slapshot-esque fights. Lemieux can’t go running behind his name every time his team gets their noses dirty. At the end of the day, your team plays a physical, somewhat illegal game that is going to be penalized. Officials aren’t always going to have control of the game (as this post season has shown us), but as the owner, you should have control over your team at all times. Your GM or coach help you form a team that will speak to your ideals, and if they aren’t signing and playing players that live up to your code, it’s your responsibility to pull it together, not the officials.
Do I agree that the NHL needs to get control of the game? Yes. Do I think they need to focus on safety? Yes. Do I think Lemieux should be the mouthpiece for this campaign? Fuck no! Look, I don’t care if you tell me the Flyers started every fight in today’s game, Penguins still engaged. Penguins still employ players like Arron Asham, who ended up with a match penalty! Penguins lose all credibility right there.
And don’t tell me Lemieux should be honored, that I’m not allowed to speak out against him (he’s not Crosby) or that I'm biased because I'm a fan of one of the Penguins Divional Rivals. No where in this am I attacking his records, his amazing ability to recover from back surgeries and cancer to have the kind of career he had, this is all about his post playing years. Just because you’ve gained all these accolades, doesn’t mean you get a free pass from here on out. What he did for the team was nothing short of a miracle. And then buying the team while they were in bankruptcy and turning them around into what they are now, is commendable.
But! At the end of the day, Lemieux is two-faced. You ice a team that employs goons and has all out brawls and expects the NHL to clean up their image. Lemieux cannot demand change while continuing to be part of the problem.
Pick a side Lemieux.