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Mario Lemieux’s letter to Gary Bettman calls for teams to be held accountable for suspended players

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Following the fight-filled, controversial February 11th game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, Mario Lemieux and the Penguins released a furious statement critiquing the way the league handles suspensions. For many, the statement was an example of the “pot calling the kettle black” considering the fact that the Penguins employ repeat offender and widely reviled pest Matt Cooke.

The Cooke-related calls of hypocrisy clouded what was a perfectly reasonable hypothesis: that the NHL isn’t doing enough to deter general managers from simply calling up a borderline player who do little beyond fighting and potentially injuring legitimate skaters.

After all, do you think the New York Islanders really cared that they lost Trevor Gillies for nine games? Even if it seems like a harsh penalty for Gillies himself, he could probably live with it because he ultimately did more or less what was asked of him. That’s all a goon can really hope for, right?

Interestingly enough, Gary Bettman’s five-point plan included one interesting idea that might eventually make Lemieux happy. Here’s that point:

The Board will be approached to elevate the standard in which a Club and its Coach can be held accountable if it has a number of ‘repeat offenders’ with regard to Supplementary Discipline.

While that ruling would be nice, it doesn’t really provide much in the way of specific details. For instance, how will the league “elevate the standard” in which teams and coaches will be held accountable?

One week ago, Lemieux sent a letter to Bettman that underscored the fact that he feels the league needs to do a better job holding its teams accountable for the actions of individual players. In fact, he even gave tangible suggestions for what kind of fines a team should pay. (Source: Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com.)

Lemieux, in his letter last week, suggested fine amounts based on the length of suspension to the player:

• 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 a player is a repeat offender during that season, the fine to the team would double,” wrote Lemieux.

It’s one thing to shame a team with a suspension, but adding a wallet-related insult to that pride-related injury could do a better job of deterring the shameful hooligan action. Sure, when a player like Todd Bertuzzi (in his prime, in Vancouver) gets suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs, it hurts his team badly. But the only way to make a suspension to a marginal player such as Gillies actually make a difference to anyone except Gillies is to make sure his team regrets it on a deeper level.

And before you jump on Lemieux again for Cooke being a member of the Penguins, he made this last point.

“Please note that if this proposed system were in operation today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been fined $600,000 this season because of recent suspensions to two players. We all have to take responsibility if we are going to improve the game.”

It’s great that the league is engaging in wider discussion of these issues, especially when figures such as Lemieux suggest black-and-white solutions.

What do you think about his suggested fines? Do you think they would make a difference in reducing ugly on-ice incidents? Would those fines be too light, too harsh or just right? Let us know in the comments.

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.