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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.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

The Penguins were already without defenseman Olli Maatta, who was injured on a late, high hit from Brooks Orpik, which resulted in a three-game ban for the Capitals’ veteran blue liner. With Maatta out for Game 3, the Penguins inserted Derrick Pouliot into the lineup. With Letang out for Game 4, that opens the door to the possibility of Justin Schultz entering this series.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

 

Krug out six months, Krejci out five months after undergoing surgery

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins talks with Torey Krug #47 during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Some pretty significant health updates out of Boston on Tuesday:

— Defenseman Torey Krug will miss the next six months following right shoulder surgery.

— Center David Krejci will miss the next five months following left hip surgery.

— Winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks following left hand surgery.

Got all that?

Let’s go straight to the ramifications:

Krug

Assuming he had a shot at making the U.S. World Cup team — and given he was the fifth-highest scoring American d-man this year, you had to figure he did — that opportunity is now wiped out.

The six-month recovery window also means Krug will likely miss however many games the Bruins play in October (it was 10 this season.) That’ll prove difficult for head coach Claude Julien.

Krug’s a staple of the Boston power play and averaged 21:36 TOI per night this season. Finding someone to fill that role won’t be easy.

Krejci

Named to the Czech Republic’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup, Krejci’s participation is now (presumably) in question. Even if he’s healthy earlier than expected — say, four months, that would bring him right up to the start of September, and the World Cup runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Can’t imagine Boston would be too happy with Krejci, who just turned 30 last week, playing in this event fresh off major hip surgery.

This is also the second significant injury Krejci’s suffered in the last two years, having partially torn his MCL in 2015.

Beleskey

Figures to be back to full health in time for training camp, which has to be one of the few positives to come from today. Beleskey enjoyed a good first year in Boston during the ’15-16 campaign, finishing with 15 goals and 37 points.

It’s possible the hand injury affected him down the stretch, though. After scoring five goals and eight points in 14 games in February, Beleskey failed to produce much in March and April, and finished the year in a four-game pointless slump.

Report: Wild interested in MacLean, Carlyle for head coaching gig

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 4: Head coach Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators yells at the on ice-officials following a disallowed goal against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on April 4, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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With the coaching carousel now in full spin — another gig opened up today, as Bob Hartley was fired in Calgary — GMs are actively seeking permission to speak with potential candidates.

Like in Minnesota, where Chuck Fletcher is working the phones.

Per the Star-Tribune, Fletcher — who has reportedly reached out to Ducks GM Bob Murray about Bruce Boudreau — is now also looking at Boudreau’s assistant in Anaheim, Paul MacLean, along with ex-Ducks and Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.

More, from Mike Russo:

It’s believed on that same phone call with Murray, Fletcher asked about the status of Ducks assistant coach Paul MacLean. I’ve been led to believe Fletcher has yet to receive permission to talk with MacLean. If that’s true, it likely means MacLean, the former Senators head coach, is a candidate to replace Boudreau in Anaheim. That would make sense since MacLean was Murray’s hire in the first place.

In addition, as I reported in my Boudreau piece in Saturday’s paper here, sources told me that Fletcher did plan to contact Randy Carlyle. I don’t know if that contact has been made yet with the former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach.

Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, Fletcher is currently in California. Logic suggests he’s getting two interviews done for the price of one, as both Boudreau and Carlyle live in southern California.

As for MacLean, he’s certainly going to be a figure worth monitoring. One has to think he’s in line to replace Boudreau in Anaheim — something predicted from the moment he was hired — but that’s assuming Murray doesn’t clean house behind the bench.