Feb 142011
 

In the aftermath of the Islanders/Penguins brouhaha on Friday night, the NHL decided to issue suspensions to Eric Godard (10 games), Trevor Gillies (9 games) and Matt Martin (4 games). They also fined the Islanders organization $100,000.

Here’s the video, for reference (via “HockeyFights.com):

Yesterday, Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux issued this statement.

“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.

“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.”

When I first heard of the suspensions the other night, my first thought was along the same lines as Mario’s – that it wasn’t enough.

What the Islanders did in that game weren’t hockey plays; they were plays made with the intent to exact their pound of flesh and injure their opponents.

First, Martin suckerpunched Maxime Talbot (4:43 mark of the video). The two were nowhere near the play and there’s not much argument that Martin meant to do anything but get Talbot. Canucks fans will, unfortunately, remember Todd Bertuzzi’s suckerpunch on Steve Moore, and except for the fact that Talbot was lucky enough to not be seriously injured, this incident looks similar.

Next, Gillies charged and delivered a blindside hit at Eric Tangradi’s head with his elbow (5:40 mark). He proceeded to deliver punches to the already obviously hurt Tangradi. And while Tangradi was being attended to by medical personnel, you see Gillies taunting him from a few feet away. Tangradi hasn’t played since.

While all of this is going on, Michael Haley, who had just finished a fight against Talbot, instead of leaving the ice went straight for goaltender Brent Johnson (6:30 mark). In his first callup this season, this Haley kid sure showed how tough he is.

I dare anyone to accept what Martin, Gillies and Haley did as part of the game.

There are some of you out there who think that Lemieux was out-of-line with his comments. But while Lemieux’s message may be muddied because he has Matt Cooke, generally acknowledged as the league’s dirtiest player, on his payroll, it doesn’t make him wrong. (For the record, remember that I questioned the NHL’s handling of Cooke just last week.)

After all, there isn’t anything wrong with tough, physical hockey. That said, there is everything wrong when players go on the ice for the sole purpose of hurting other players.

When Bertuzzi hit Moore, the NHL suspended him for the rest of the 2003/2004 regular season and the playoffs. They barred him from playing in Europe or participating in the World Cup and World Hockey Championships. They didn’t reinstate him for 17 months.

At the time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “”This is not a part of our game, it has no place in our game, and it will not be tolerated in our game.”

Well, neither were the incidents from Friday. But based on the league’s (lack of) response, they may as well be.

*****

More to my point from last week’s post, what is getting lost in all of this is the fact that the Islanders have won 5 of their last 7 games. They’ve averaged 4.43 goals per game in that span and Michael Grabner has been named the NHL’s 1st Star of the Week. No one is talking about the Islanders’ recent run; rather, the focus has been on their goons.

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