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Mario Lemieux’s message to the NHL both right and wrong all at once

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When the NHL handed down their punishment for what went down on Friday night at Nassau Coliseum between the Penguins and Islanders, I opined here that while the punishments were severe for the Islanders and for Eric Godard of the Penguins, the NHL seemingly had their hands tied by trying to figure out how to best punish players for the Isles that they weren’t going to miss in the first place.

When Penguins legend and owner Mario Lemieux issued his tersely worded takedown of the NHL for what he felt was the league’s failing to do the right thing and punish the Islanders harder for failing to set an example for how to best protect the other players in the league, the reaction to Lemieux’s words across the hockey landscape was wide ranging.

Nick Cotosonika of Yahoo! Sports said that Lemieux’s words smacked of hypocrisy. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy said that Lemieux’s point is true and that his take on what’s ruining the game has never wavered over his career as a player and now as an executive. Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly echoed Cotsonika’s thoughts in that what Lemieux says rings hollow because he employs noted dirty player Matt Cooke.

If you missed out, Lemieux had this to say about the NHL’s handling of the situation:

“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be,” Lemieux said in a statement. “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.”

Lemieux’s takedown has full and complete merit when it pertains to the situation at hand.

The Islanders were dead wrong with how they decided to go about seeking retribution for what they felt was a dirty hit on Blake Comeau by Maxime Talbot. It’s very difficult to ignore the elephant in the room, however, when it pertains to the guys that he employs in the Penguins locker room. Like it or not, Lemieux’s silence when it pertains to Matt Cooke is a similar problem.

If Lemieux’s takedown of the league also includes the punishments given out to Cooke for his malicious actions in the past then all is well and Mario’s words stand out as strong as ever coming from an icon of the game.

Instead, we’re left to assume that Lemieux is looking past the problem child in the Pens locker room and that when Cooke goes out of his way to deliver a knee-on-knee hit to Alexander Ovechkin, charges Fedor Tyutin from behind, or makes it a point to nearly take Marc Savard’s head off that Lemieux is all right with that because Cooke is a good player on his own team.

If Lemieux would open himself up to questions to get to the bottom of his statement to make it abundantly clear who he’s addressing then we’d know just how big of an advocate for player safety he really is. Instead, Lemieux comes off as an angry owner advocating from the bully pulpit that problems only exist when his team is victimized. If that’s what it is in this situation, that’s selfish.

We can take what Super Mario has said and apply it justly, however. Loading up your lineup with thugs to engage in a virtual riot on the ice is no way to go about solving problems and GM Garth Snow doing that on purpose is horrible. If the Islanders are that bothered by what happened, crushing the Penguins on the scoreboard should’ve been message enough for their liking. Seeking redemption through blood and violent disgusting acts taking out players at will is 1,000 kinds of wrong and Snow essentially condoning Gillies’ actions against Eric Tangradi is proof enough as to why the organization was fined $100,000.

Don’t get lost in the discussion here. The Isles are wrong. Wrong in every way possible for what they did. Lemieux coming out from behind the desk to issue his statement made it clear that he’s not happy with how the league is conducting business and that’s good. Given how the league has handled their way of punishing players that have run afoul of the law Colin Campbell and the rest of the front office need a wake up call like that.

We just hope that if/when a Penguins player is put under the microscope that Lemieux will accept the punishment delivered by the NHL and say that while it pains the team it’s best for the league. Otherwise his proud stand ends up just being selfish grandstanding in order to catch a break. That’s not the Mario Lemieux we want to believe in as fans of him and the sport, we’d rather he be Super Mario and do something to affect change for the good of the game.

Maybe the Leafs didn’t want to trade Phaneuf, but they couldn’t afford to keep him

TORONTO, ON - DECEMEBER 19: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a faceoff against the Phoenix Coyotes during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 19, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Coyotes 2-1 in an overtime shoot-out. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The conference call was supposed to outline the reasons why Toronto traded its captain, Dion Phaneuf.

But instead, the man that orchestrated the deal — GM Lou Lamoriello — opened with all the reasons why the Leafs would miss him.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with Dion from day one,” Lamoriello explained on Tuesday, shortly after flipping Phaneuf to Ottawa in a blockbuster nine-player deal. “I came in with no preconceived notions, I really didn’t know what to expect other than what was hearsay at different times.

“He’s been impressive in every way whatsoever. And in the phone call I had with him, I expressed that and I meant it sincerely. He’s been a great leader, he’s handled every situation that’s been asked of him, and he’s going to be missed.”

But then, Lamoriello turned to the hard truth.

For as much as the Leafs liked Phaneuf and respected what he’d done in his six-plus seasons with the organization, he just didn’t fit anymore.

Phaneuf, who turns 31 in April, didn’t fit with the rebuild. Assuming the Leafs are two to three years away from being competitive, it’s hard to envision a (successful) blueprint in which a veteran defenseman — one that’s essentially been miscast as a No. 1 since arriving in Toronto — is pushing 35 while the team is on an upswing… while pulling in $7 million annually.

Which brings us to the next thing that didn’t fit in Toronto:

Phaneuf’s contract.

In the second of a seven-year, $49 million deal, Phaneuf would’ve been on Toronto’s books through 2021. That kind of term is an albatross, especially when the likes of Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri need new deals by next July, and prized prospects Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are all due to hit restricted free agency around the same time.

Sens GM Bryan Murray acknowledged as much in his conference call, saying the Phaneuf trade “gives [the Leafs] relief in the latter part of the contract.”

Lamoriello also made mention of that fact, pointing out that a key to the deal was not retaining any of Phaneuf’s salary.

“The length of Dion’s contract and the amount of cap space that is there — where that would put us at a given time, certainly not knowing where the cap will go, this gives us the opportunity to do things,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity when some of our younger players are coming to the end of their entry-level contracts — who we have high expectations for — to sign them.”

In the end, the deck was just too stacked against Phaneuf.

The GM that acquired him (Brian Burke) and the one that extended him (Dave Nonis) are long gone, and the new regime made no bones about the fact that, for as much as they liked Phaneuf, they didn’t like his contract.

So, off to Ottawa he goes.

“This is a transaction, “Lamoriello said, “that we had no choice with.”

Related: For Sens, Phaneuf brings experience and ‘security on the back end’

For Sens, Phaneuf brings experience and ‘security on the back end’

OTTAWA, CANADA - APRIL 12: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs passes the puck against Erik Condra #22 of the Ottawa Senators on April 12, 2014 at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)
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If it felt like this morning’s Dion Phaneuf trade came out of the blue, well, it kinda did.

According to Senators GM Bryan Murray, talks only got “serious” this past weekend during a phone call with Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.

“He called me about something else,” said Murray. “I brought up Dion’s name.”

The way the Sens had been playing, it’s no surprise to hear that Murray had been looking for a “little more security on the back end,” as he put it.

“You hear people talk all the time that we’re dreadful in our own end,” he said. “We haven’t been great. We’re getting better. This we believe will be a good addition. It’s about getting an experienced leader, good person, hard-working, competitive guy to add to the mix in our top four.”

Phaneuf is expected to start on the Sens’ second pairing with Cody Ceci. Ottawa’s top d-man, Erik Karlsson, typically skates with Marc Methot.

While Murray called the multi-player deal a “hockey trade,” he conceded there were financial considerations involved.

“It had to work financially for us, as well as for Toronto,” he said. “It gives them relief in the latter part of the contract, I suspect, and it gives us some working pieces to go forward with for the next couple of years.”

What do the Sens expect from Phaneuf?

“Just to be a solid person, player,” said Murray. “Come in and give a little experience to the back end. Play his game the way he plays it.”

“He’ll just bring, we hope, a presence to this organization,” Murray continued. “It appears right now that we’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to be fitted in and playing. Our depth and youth, it’s good. We just needed a little bit of help.”

One thing Murray doesn’t expect?

“We don’t expect him to come in here to be a savior. We expect him to come in here and just be the hockey player that he is.”

Ottawa plays tomorrow in Detroit, where Phaneuf is expected to make his Senators debut.

The Sens and Leafs play March 5 in Toronto.

No hearing scheduled for Abdelkader after Barkov hit

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There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader following his big check on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov last night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

The incident, which occurred early in the second period, left Barkov woozy and forced him from the game entirely. Abdelkader wasn’t penalized on the play — that, along with the hit itself, infuriated the Panthers and head coach Gerard Gallant.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald.

“I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way,” Gallant added, noting that Abdelkader “left his feet a little and got [Barkov] in the jaw.”

Abdelkader has run afoul of the Department of Player Safety before. He was suspended two games during the ’13 playoffs for a hit on then-Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.

The Panthers are back in action tonight, as they take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

Detroit doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts the Sens at Joe Louis.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Senators

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings is knocked off balance by Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Staples Center on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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And this is why we listen when Bob McKenzie says something.

The Ottawa Senators have acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and undrafted defensive prospect Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg, plus Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

No salary will be retained by either team.

From the Leafs’ perspective, the trade provides even more cap flexibility for their rebuild. Phaneuf is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million; he’s entirely on Ottawa’s books now. As for the guys coming to Toronto, Michalek, Cowen, and Greening are only under contract through next season, for a combined cap hit of around $10 million. And according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both Cowen and Greening could be bought out by the Leafs this offseason.

The Sens, meanwhile, get to add a workhorse defenseman to a blue line that already includes Erik Karlsson. Plus, they rid themselves of some onerous contracts.