Today, legendary player and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux released a statement blasting the league for their response to the scrums, melee, and down right embarrassment that occurred in New York on Friday:
"Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. 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."
You will read a ton about this today, and over the course of the next few days (I would guess). My take, and why fans should not be covering their ears and yelling "MATT COOKE! MATT COOKE!" after the jump.
If you have not seen the videos, and I am not sure how you haven't up until this point. Here they are:
Many fans off of Long Island defend the actions of the Islanders. Many of the writers here at Hockey Wilderness see nothing wrong with what happened on the ice that night, and I agree that Lemieux has a major obstacle to overcome if he wants to make this comment while employing Matt Cooke. That should not be the end all of this argument, however.
I have some major concerns with much of what went on that night, and that is why we are here.
I bear no ill will toward either of these franchises. The Penguins are one of the best teams in the league, and reviled by many fan bases because of it. Their star, Sidney Crosby, is a robot who shows little personality, and when he does, he is blasted by opposing fans bases. He is a bit of a whiner, and I will not argue that.
It is difficult to imagine that, if you shot them up with truth serum, that those same fans would not want Crosby centering their top line. They will tell you they hate him, that he is too much of a baby. I don't buy it. If you could have him scoring 100 points on your team, you would be ecstatic about it. GO ahead and tell me otherwise. I won't argue with you, but we both know you are full of it.
Back to Friday night. My problem with what happened is not that the Isles dropped the gloves. I love good hockey fight. I love a good line brawl. I miss the days of the North Stars and Blackhawks having bench clearing brawls with people engaging in multiple bouts before finally being corralled.
What I have an issue with is that the Isles completely ignored "The Code." I know, I know... the stupid "code" right? Well, if you don't agree that "The Code" has a place, we have no debate to have here. We disagree on the basic premise of the debate, thus we have nowhere to even begin to talk.
Maxime Talbot did not want to fight. For that, he loses respect from the players and the fans. Hell, I'm not even sure I have any issue with the tough guy getting his face punched in, even if he didn't want to. The problem I have there is the punch came from the side. Square off with him and make him go. No sucker punches.
Next, my big issue is with Trevor Gillies. I don't buy that he didn't know the kid was hurt. Same excuse Bertuzzi used, and no one bought it then either. Not to mention that the rookie had nothing to do with this. Gillies chose a weak victim and took advantage of it. The Isles waited until Eric Godard was off the ice, and made themselves look like the bad guys.
You want to fight? You want to settle the score? I'm all for it. However, you should not be doing it by attacking a guy clearly weaker than you, out of your weight class, and who has committed no transgression against your squad. Then, if you are going to do that, and you knock the guy silly, then punch him while he is out, don't stand off the ice and chirp the guy while he is being treated by a doctor.
Poor form. You lose the argument, and any others you had by doing so.
Brent Johnson was an idiot for picking a fight with a guy outside his weight class, Godard did what any good goon is supposed to do... the Isles sent their message, and it wasn't enough. They became Todd Bertuzzi.
The Statement and the MATT COOKE! MATT COOKE! argument:
The Penguins employ Matt Cooke. He is a douche bag extraorinaire. He is the dirtiest player in the league. He nearly ended, and likely has contributed to the end, of a man's career. It is difficult to imagine that the Penguins have the high ground here.
As Nathan said on Twitter, Mario's first move should have been to cut Cooke before making such a statement. It weakens his stance, for sure. It does not, however, make it off base.
Fans want the league to change, do they not? They want the league to take player injury seriously, right? As a fan, do you not understand where change in the NHL comes from? If you don't understand, here is a lesson.
The NHL is a league made up of franchises. The 30 owners make up the league. The league doesn't own the teams, though they are under any number of contracts to perform as thought they do. The league changes as the owners see fit. If the owners do not like the way the league is being run, they change the guy running it, and the league changes.
Simple as that.
So, when Mario Lemieux, an owner, comes out and makes a statement as powerful as the one he made today, it would be nice to see fans forget about the players on the ice for a moment. Forget about Matt Cooke for just a second. Forget that the fan bases in so many markets hate the Penguins and everything they stand for.
Take a step back and understand that an NHL owner took a bold step in leading the league to change the way things are handled. Check your hatred at the door, and pretend it is your owner saying it. Do you agree with the message? If so, then why not say that, and then bash Matt Cooke?
Ask yourself this... if your team's owner would have said it, would they have made the same impact? If Craig Leipold says the same thing, does anyone care? I can guarantee you it gets lost in the shuffle if it is Leipold. The owner of the Wild is not a name, a face. He is a wallet. Mario Lemieux is a name, a face, a power in the league.
Don't dismiss the point because you are a Wings or Caps fan and hate the Penguins. Don't dismiss the point because you are a human being and hate Matt Cooke. Don't let the pettiness of calling out Cooke for being a douche change the fact that the message was 100% spot on.
Admit that. Then I will listen to you say that the message could have been better delivered after Lemieux had shipped Cooke to the KHL. But if you want to dismiss the message simply because of Matt Cooke, then you have let Matt Cooke beat the importance of the message.
I hate Matt Cooke, too. He shouldn't be in the NHL. I have made that clear on more than one occasion. I will not, however, let Matt Cooke's employment blind me to the fact that one of the biggest names to ever be involved in the NHL just called for the type of change I want to see in the league.
Right now, there is a chance for the league to get a wake up call. You going to let Matt Cooke stand in the way of that? You're missing the forest for the trees and that seems pretty weak to me.