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McKenzie: Lemieux losing big in court of public opinion

Bob McKenzie
2/14/2011 10:09:01 PM
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The NHL has no intention of fining Mario Lemieux for his critical public remarks on the league's handling of disciplinary matters following the New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins gong show on Friday night.

Lemieux is, however, losing big in the court of public opinion. He's being called a hypocrite by those who feel Penguin forward Matt Cooke's style of play, questionable at best and dirty at worst, should preclude Lemieux from condemning aberrant behaviour. Also, Lemieux implying he may have to re-think his involvement with the NHL because of this has many portraying Lemieux as a spoiled kid who's thinking about taking his puck and going home because he doesn't like how the game is going.

All that said, though, the Cooke issue and Lemieux's specific criticisms are really apples and oranges.

Lemieux's comments relate to the Islander-Pens game as a whole. The fact that he feels much of what happened was pre-meditated by the Islanders as payback for past incidents, including Max Talbot's hit on Blake Comeau and Brent Johnson's knockout punch on Rick DiPietro.

Lemieux undoubtedly thought Matt Martin should have gotten more than four games for his payback sucker punch on Talbot and perhaps Michael Haley should have been suspended a game or two for chasing down Johnson to fight the goalie, but mostly he's incensed the majority of the game was a chronic and orchestrated clown show of sorts, which is not to be confused with isolated incidents of course-of-the-game player on player violence, the kind Cooke often perpetrates with questionable hits.

Lemieux's criticisms still ring hollow, though, because he could, if truly interested, back his words by actions - taking a more proactive role at the ownership or governor level to discuss NHL crime and punishment. Even before Lemieux's outburst, Penguins GM Ray Shero intended to at least discuss head hits and concussions at the next General Manager's meeting in mid-March and he's by no means alone on that count. If Lemieux is legitimately concerned for where the game is headed, he would encourage Sidney Crosby, once he's healthy, to get on the NHL-NHLPA Competition Committee, an opportunity that may be available to him.

In other words, the general sense is if Mario were truly concerned with the state of the game, not just the Penguins' place in it, there are plenty of other ways for Mario to show it.

Bob McKenzie

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