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.