We asked other Globe and Mail sports writers to share their thoughts on the statement Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux made about the NHL on Sunday:
I wonder if Mario Lemieux isn't firing what amounts to a pre-emptive shot at the NHL ahead of Sidney Crosby's return?
He has to know he looks like a hypocrite with Matt Cooke on his team, but I wonder if he isn't as much as putting the NHL on notice before Crosby comes back from his concussion. I know we're jumping to a bit of a conclusion, here, as there is still no guarantee Crosby will be back.
Given the disregard NHL players have for each other, Lemieux would be fully within his right to be concerned. Crosby will have a target on his back the second he steps out there. Wonder if Lemieux would let it be known sotto voce that he will advise Crosby not to return given the current climate? That would make for some good copy, no?
Most of Mario Lemieux’s statement reads like a frustrated owner blowing off the steam. The one exception is this line: “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.”
That’s a more meaningful sentence because of the stakes, and the thinly-veiled threat contained therein.
Could the NHL afford losing Super Mario as an owner? And what would be the fallout for the Penguins organization?
Surely, the Penguins wouldn’t exist in Pittsburgh today without Lemieux, and they’d be weaker if he stepped away. Lemieux was a somewhat reluctant owner, assuming the team in a bankruptcy court because he was the chief creditor owed $30-million U.S.
He later looked for investors and connected with California billionaire Ron Burkle. The duo has since made an unsolicited offer to buy MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates, so sports ownership seems to be in their long-range plans.
But reading deeply into his statement, you wonder if Lemieux is paving himself an exit ramp.
He can’t just up and sell the team to anyone, because for so long, he has championed the cause of keeping the Pens in Steeltown. The team plays in a new building, and with the primes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (assuming they both make it back from injury) still to come, it may never be more valuable.
Perhaps Mario is so disgusted by the scene on Long Island Friday, that he is willing to leave the NHL (remember he railed against Gary Bettman’s “garage league” in the 1990s, when clutch-and-grab players were given the benefit of the rulebook over stars who sell tickets) on philosophical grounds. Or perhaps Lemieux is using that incident, and NHL thuggery in general, as a pretext to park his money elsewhere.
Whenever someone of Mario Lemieux's stature in the game speaks about an important issue - in this case, the brawl between his Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders and his view that the NHL's response was too weak - it is a worthwhile thing. People tend to pay greater attention when the game's icons - from Wayne Gretzky to Sidney Crosby - take a strong stand on the problems that the NHL faces.
The difficulty with Lemieux, throughout the years, is that he rarely tackles any issue unless it involves him personally, or his team. His words, on this matter, would carry far greater weight if, for example, he'd added his voice to the chorus on head shots that you've heard from all different corners around the NHL for going on two years now. Instead, Mario mostly just goes along to get along, or until a situation like this arises, where his Penguins are in free fall, in no small part because of the concussion Crosby suffered in the NHL's Winter Classic. This was an outburst borne out of frustration.
So Mario, keep hammering away at the culture where it needs changing, but please, in the future, be less Penguin-centric and more concerned with the greater good of all 30 teams. It will resonate in a far greater way if you do.
So let’s get this straight, Mario Lemieux is being called out for hypocrisy by fellow governors because he employs Matt Cooke?
The league stands as a monument to hypocrisy – just look at the place on-ice mayhem takes up on the NHL website – if the Penguins didn’t have Cooke, someone else would surely hand him a contract.
Look at the top seeds in the Eastern Conference: Philly, Tampa, and Boston all feature men who play on or over the edge.
The question shouldn’t be whether Lemieux is being a hypocrite – if he’s in the hockey industry, it’s something of a job requirement.
The real question: is Mario the Magnificent right?
The only player in the NHL to be suspended twice this year is the Isles’ Matt Martin (he got three games for a hit to the head earlier this year).
Martin is the guy who slugged Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot from behind in an incident that recalled Todd Bertuzzi’s craven assault on Steve Moore. Talbot was a marked man for an earlier hit on New York’s Blake Comeau that wasn’t penalized.
“I don’t understand Martin’s gesture, in my eyes it’s the same thing Todd Bertuzzi did, and he got a much, much longer suspension. The difference is that Steve Moore broke his neck and Talbot had nothing,” said Montreal Canadiens’ defenceman Alex Picard. “It’s the kind of the NHL’s trademark, they crack down when a player gets hurt, otherwise they go with a shorter suspension. It’s a pretty sad reality.”
Added teammate Mathieu Darche: “when Mario played, he spoke out against clutching and grabbing, he’s said lots of things along those lines. I think it’s good that people talk about it, you need to be able to express your opinions.”