Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Mario Under The Microscope

We've got a very special post from a writer who has put himself first in line for a guest post! Today, I want to feature a great article from Mr. Tim Ambler. Tim is the owner of MightyPromos, is an avid hockey fan, and an all-around sports enthusiast. MightyPromos provides promotional hockey products such as promotional hockey pucks that can be printed with a logo or message of your choosing. tim wanted to talk about the Mario Lemieux comments following the debacle that was the Penguins-Islanders game a few weeks ago. Here is Tim's piece, and I'll have my commentary below.

Mario Lemieux may be a hockey legend, but his management skills leave a lot to be desired. Lemieux has recently come under severe criticism for blasting NHL with regard to the handling of the fights between the Penguins and New York Islanders. Many people feel that he is all words and no actions. His main criticism, of the suspension of Eric Godard for ten games, was quite unnecessary according to many fans and served only to highlight his incompetence despite being a star player and Hall of Fame inductee. Godard received a ten-game suspension for leaving the bench to join the brawl. This compared to the nine-game suspension of Trevor Gillies who elbowed Pittsburgh's blue-chipper Eric Tangradi and continued to hit him while he was down. Many fans agree with Lemieux, owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, that a nine-game suspension might be too lenient for the obvious disrespect to the rules of the game and the authorities represented by Gillies.

But as Brian Burke, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, commented on Monday with regards to Lemieux's Sunday statement, the penguin's owner will in the future need to go directly to the governors if he wants to implicate change rather than draw emotion from the media. Burke highlighted that the altercation called for swift and immediate response from the NHL. With regard to the severity of the punishments handed out, Burke referred Lemieux to the NHL Rule Book, section 70.10, where players are warned against leaving the bench to join in any action taking place in the field. If a player breaks this rule, they are automatically subjected to a ten-game suspension.

To hockey fans, Mario Lemieux has always been known to apply open criticism without fear. Even as a player, Lemieux always spoke his mind whether in the game or outside it. However, many feel that he needs to exercise precaution as owner and manager of the beloved Pittsburgh Penguins. This comes in the wake of his endorsement for Matt Cooke who has often been blamed for many altercations. It cannot be denied that Cooke's talent in the field may yet to be equaled, but one may wonder if it is worth putting up with his arrogance and ability to draw trouble. Many of his teammates and opponents agree that Cooke could prove to be more of a liability to the team rather than the asset he is meant to be. The 33 year-old is known for taking cheap shots and goading his opponents into dishonorable behavior. Many Penguins fans are beginning to feel that his behavior is now overshadowing his exceptional talent. The player has been in headlines for all the wrong reasons, with many of his opponents complaining about his behavior. It seems that once Cooke steps into the field, he cannot stop the actions that his mouth takes. There is no playing fair when Cooke is in the field. Perhaps, opponents should be handed ear plugs when Cooke comes into the field.

Many feel that Lemieux's statement could be interpreted as a defense of Cooke, his most controversial player. And this is where many feel that the man needs to take more action rather than offer words which may have no impact at all. Before criticizing the NHL management and maybe resorting to calling the organization a "garage league" as he did in 1992, Mario Lemieux needs to streamline his players and curb the rampant Cooke. To many, he is playing double standards by employing one of the worst cheap-shot artists in the history of the game in Cooke. He and his general manager, Ray Shero, have come under fire for criticizing the NHL on one hand, and on the other giving privilege to an addict of cheap shots.

However, whatever his sentiments are, a prize goes to Lemieux for standing up for his players and the game he loves so much. The owner has claimed several times that the Pittsburgh Penguins are not about him, but about the team members themselves. When players step onto the ice and raise their sticks in honor of the fans, they know that injury could always result as a matter of accidents. Hockey is always physical and sometimes emotional; the game, as Lemieux stated, is tough and it should always remain so. However, these players are not in the field to be beaten up and broken by their opponents. Anyone acting in such a way should surely face more than a fine. Players walk a thin line between being irritating, offensive, and illegal. When beloved players goad an opponent into a penalty, they are often applauded by fans. They are paid millions with many clubs fighting to have them on their side. However, when the same player takes just one single step over the blurry line, they are openly criticized.

Mario Lemieux knows personally the price of head shots and this may be why, after a long time, Friday's altercation has brought the owner out of his self-made cocoon. Perhaps, he saw himself in Tangradi, his most promising rookie and the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins. What he saw was an inconsiderate and jealous opponent almost shatters the dreams of not just his star player, but also those of his team. It has often been said that were it not for health problems, Lemieux would have gone on to become one of the most celebrated players in the history of the game with numbers that would not just have been impressive, but perhaps unequaled. All these dreams and aspirations were cut short due to injury, so Lemieux may see things from a different perspective for Tangradi.

Despite all this, it is hard not to see the favoritism of his reaction. Mario Lemieux did nothing and, in fact, said nothing when Cooke head-butted Fedor Tyutin just a few days before the Friday brawl. Maybe this is why many fans feel that Lemieux should do more and speak less.

First off, I want to thank Tim for his contribution here today. He's putting his heart on his sleeve here, and that takes some real moxie. Good on you, Tim, and you're more than welcome to send over other thoughts you may have. However, let's break these thoughts down.

As you may or may not know, I'm a die-hard Penguins fan, and I wanted to play hockey like Mario Lemieux. It crushed me as a kid when he decided to retire the first time, and I really feel like he missed the best parts of his career by taking the time off. I also know that the value of one's health is unequaled when it comes to the overall quality of life that one wants, so I now understand why he did it. So I want to be clear when I say this: I respect Mario Lemieux's opinion on anything hockey.

But I want to put a few things in perspective here. Mario Lemieux does not decide who skates on the ice for the Penguins in any way, shape, or form. Blaming Lemieux for the actions of Matt Cooke is an complete joke. It's apples and oranges, folks. They are not, and never will be, related aside from the fact that Lemieux writes the cheques and Cooke cashes them. It's Ray Shero who decides who skates for the Penguins, and Lemieux has always maintained a hands-off approach to the Penguins because he has hired people like Shero to do that job.

The fact that Lemieux spoke out shows that he still cares about how the game is played. This fact should not be forgotten. Lemieux understands the ten-game suspension that Godard received. He was not commenting on that. What he was commenting on was the sideshow that this game became. Trevor Gillies felling Tangradi with an elbow and then pummeling him while he lied dazed and confused on the ice and then running his mouth from the zamboni gate as Tangradi lie on the ice. That's the sideshow that Lemieux was commenting on.

Or perhaps he was commenting on Haley's actions. Not only was Haley two-hundred feet away from where goaltender Brent Johnson was standing, but Johnson hadn't even made a move down the ice. Instead, Haley broke away from the pack of skaters in the corner of the Islanders' zone, and skated all the way down the ice to go after Brent Johnson. That, kids, is what a sideshow can be defined as. It's 100% true that Godard came off the bench to protect Johnson from Haley, but there was no reason for Haley to be attacking Johnson at that time aside from pure revenge for what Johnson did to DiPietro. Sideshow? Absolutely.

Don't think that Lemieux's words were said for him to be mocked. Instead, know that what he has done is raised the bar indirectly by stating his displeasure with the suspensions and fines handed out for what was clearly an intentional move by several of the Islanders' players. After all, the NHL handed down no punishment for Lemieux's comments to the media despite his disparaging remarks.

"We are entirely comfortable with how Friday night's events were handled," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "We have no other response to Mr. Lemieux's statement."

I'll ask you, readers, this one question: did you expect the Penguins just to shrug their shoulders and brush this one off? I explained how Gillies and Haley broke the code in my February 11 article, so why are people so up in arms over Lemieux calling a spade "a spade"?

I'm going to side with Lemieux on this one, kids. He's right when he said that the NHL failed to send a message. And I'm betting this won't be the last time we hear the name "Gillies" associated with the word "suspension" over his career.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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