NHL: Why Mario Lemieux's Letter to Gary Bettman Is Very Important

Mike Shannon@@DLman91Featured ColumnistMarch 15, 2011

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 07:  Team owner Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman arrive for the opening faceoff between the Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Consol Energy Center on October 7, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Monday was a very busy day in Penguins-land as team captain Sidney Crosby returned to the ice and team owner Mario Lemieux unveiled a letter sent to commissioner Gary Bettman.  The letter addressed the controversial topic of on-ice discipline in the NHL and the league's failure to punish accordingly.

Lemieux makes the point that suspensions have not stopped dirty players from repeating their actions when they return to the ice (see: Gillies, Trevor), which makes them somewhat ineffective.  Lemieux also wants the teams themselves to be liable for their player's actions (imagine that!) and be fined according to the suspension.

Lemieux suggested the following structure for fining franchises based off suspensions:


• 1-2 games: $50,000 fine to team.

• 3-4 games: $100,000 fine to team.

• 5-8 games: $250,000 fine to team.

• 9-10 games: $500,000 fine to team.

• 11-15 games: $750,000 fine to team.

• More than 15 games: $1 million fine to team.


If the player is a repeat offender, then the fine would double and, oh boy, that would get a front office nice and fired up.

Before all the anti-Penguin fans come out of the woodwork to bash this, remember that under this system, the Penguins organization would have paid $600,000 in fines this year.  Lemieux acknowledges that and says he would accept responsibility for cleaning up the game he loves.

Now the ball is completely in the NHL's court.  Lemieux was criticized last time he spoke out against the league because he had the nerve to employ Matt Cooke.  Ignoring the fact that those critics proved themselves to be giant hypocrites, Lemieux wrote this open letter and made it a slam dunk.

If Lemieux had this letter ready to go following the Islanders fiasco, I doubt there would have been any fake outrage to his words.  Lemieux is one of, if not the, most respected retired players in the game today and when he speaks, people listen.

The NHL needs a change.  What do the New York Islanders care that Trevor Gillies was suspended?  The guy can barely skate and he fills the role of the no-talent goon who is only in the league because he's a violent animal. 

However, if the Islanders organization was fined over $1 million for his actions, I can guarantee they would make some changes.

I'm not saying we need to follow Lemieux's plan to the letter but something like this is exactly what the league needs.  The NHL is in danger of falling back into what it was before the lockout: a league where stars are being stifled by below average players and their goonish tactics.

The National Hockey League needs to adopt a standard like this as soon as possible.  While they are at it, they should also fire Colin Campbell and hire someone like Mike Bossy, who was actually a talented player and knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of cheap shots. 

Campbell was a lifelong plugger who got by with checks and playing on the edge.  Who would you rather have doling out suspensions?

Lemieux is trying, once again, to save the game he loves.  He cares enough about the game to not see it destroyed by violence and needless injuries.  The NHL would be very wise to listen.


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