Tue Feb 15 10:42am EST
As the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders debate simmers down into players threatening to take down their Mario Lemieux poster out of spite, there's one more important voice on the matter that's gone on the record: Penguins GM Ray Shero.
If there have been two consistent criticisms of Mario Lemieux's comments, it's (a) because he cuts a check to Matt Cooke(notes), the current Dirtiest Player in the League and (b) because it's difficult to see the Penguins lead the league in major penalties, fights and overall penalty minutes while their owner bemoans the actions of others.
Shero, in his conversation with Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, discusses both critiques. From the Trib:
Q: What is your response to opinions from within the media that the Penguins, who lead the NHL in penalties and employ controversial winger Matt Cooke, come off as hypocritical with regards to Lemieux's statement?
A: We lead the league in fighting majors compliments of seven (Friday night), six defending ourselves. This is the first year we've been in this position. That last four years we were middle of the pack. When I say "tough team to play against," it's not about fighting. There's not a manager in the league who says he wants his team to be easy to play against.
What transpired on Friday night was not in the context of a hockey game. That wasn't the hockey code as anybody might call it. (The Islanders) were trying to extract revenge, for I don't know what, to be honest. If that's what they wanted to do - listen, tap the guy on the shoulder and say, "Let's go." OK, we answer the bell. These cheap shots, and a shot from behind, to say these guys actually came out to play hockey - I find that hard to believe. That's the disappointment I have.
We know they were out for revenge because Zenon Konopka said as much. The debate here is whether the out-for-vengeance cheap shot is somehow cheaper that a cheap shot "in the context of a hockey game."
I side with Mario and Shero on this; does that put me in the minority?
On the Cooke question, Shero was asked if the Penguins have an image problem:
Q: Does your team have an image problem?
A: No. Not at all. You've written that. You wrote it (Sunday). I don't think it's an issue.
I want to be a blue-collar, hard-working hockey team. We're not a dirty team. OK, Matt Cooke - everybody is saying, "How can you say this and have Matt Cooke?" He gets fined, suspended. In the (Columbus defenseman Fedor) Tyutin case, (Cooke) was talked to by me and the coach. I talked to him after the Savard hit.
Hard-working and aggressive (play) go into the same thing. From our hockey team's standpoint, I think we play with honor. I really do.
Matt Cooke wasn't about Friday night. Friday night was something different.
This is where the Penguins' mindset on Cooke is established, and it's the same mindset I'd imagine you'd hear from any team that has a player who crosses the line within the course of action. Cooke is "hard-working and aggressive," and that's why he hits guys between the numbers against the end boards. The Islanders were, we imagine in Shero's eyes, playing like a "dirty team" on Friday.
That's the distinction Mario and Shero place on their guy's actions and the actions of others. Question is, does that tune change if, say, Cooke decided to let his presence known in the next Islanders/Penguins game?
Two more bits of coverage for you on his. First, Islanders blogger Chris Botta had an interesting take on what this moment means to the franchise:
But somehow one win, a few scraps, two suspensions and one big league-imposed fine are now a defining moment in franchise history. The tide has turned for the Islanders? A defining moment? Sign of a change in culture? Or today from Howie Rose: "The restoration of Islander pride"?
My apologies to the faithful in Islanders Country who continue to check out this blog and view the SNY interviews in stunning numbers. I'm sorry, but my bar is a lot higher than one crazy night at the old barn two-thirds into a fourth straight lost season.
The Islanders should be able to get better and regain credibility soon, perhaps as early as next season. It only counts, however, when they do it from beginning to end for an entire season and beyond.
From the Calgary Herald, Calgary Flames Coach Brent Sutter on Mario's comments:
"You certainly see where Mario is coming from with the way the game has changed," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter on Monday. "When you look at the game itself over a period of time, it's been very, very, very frequent that something like that has taken place . . . a situation occurred in the heat of battle in a high intensity game and obviously the league did that they thought was right.
"But you understand where Mario is coming from, too, because we certainly don't want to take steps back and have it be a weekly occurrence. Yet you had two teams in an incident that occurred less than a week before that where things got heated up a little bit.
"That happens but it's something that hasn't happened a whole lot in the last few years."
Finally, Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters has a dozen videos of cheap shots and revenge moments in a piece about "shooting the messenger":
While fining the Islanders $100,000 is hardly insignificant, especially for a team with revenue issues, the suspensions to Islanders forward Matt Martin(notes) (four games) and Islanders forward Trevor Gillies(notes) (nine games) were woefully inadequate.
There was nothing to gain from a hockey perspective in how Martin and Gillies attacked Maxime Talbot or Eric Tangradi(notes). Martin threw a punch at a player from a blind side, just like Bertuzzi. Had Talbot not seen the attack at the last second and protected himself, he could have been injured seriously.
Gillies skated from half way across the rink to elbow Eric Tangradi in he head. When Tangradi was visibly injured, Gillies failed to relent and continued to attack Tangradi. As it was, Tangradi suffered a head injury.
Given how the NHL levied heavy suspensions on the likes of Bertuzzi and Simon, how does the NHL not drop the hammer on Martin or Gillies? Their intent was clear and in one instance, an injury was delivered.
Inconsistency from the NHL on dangerous hits? No way.