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Lemieux, Crosby influence GM meetings

| Tuesday, March 15, 2011

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Neither Mario Lemieux nor Sidney Crosby is at the Boca Raton Resort for the NHL general manager's meetings, but they greatly influenced Day 1.

Two significant developments from Monday directly tied to the Penguins: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's immediate retooling of concussion diagnosis testing and his pledge to push the Board of Governors to fine teams that employ repeat disciplinary offenders.

"I'm real supportive of that," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said, referring to the fines proposal.

So is Lemieux, the franchise majority co-owner and a Hall-of-Fame former player. reported yesterday afternoon that Lemieux sent a letter last week to Bettman calling for teams to pay a heavy price for dirty deeds done by their players on the ice.

In the letter, Lemieux called for fine amounts based on the number of games a player is suspended -- starting at $50,000 for one to two games and maxing at $1 million for 15 or more games. He also acknowledged the Penguins would have been fined $600,000 this season for offenses committed by wingers Matt Cooke and Eric Godard.

Lemieux couldn't be reached for comment, but several NHL sources who have read the letter confirmed its contents.

"The team has to make that decision to employ that type of player, and the player has to make the decision if he wants to play that way. And all of a sudden, their owner's going to be paying money," Shero said.

Lemieux also publicly criticized the league for what he perceived as too lenient discipline against the New York Islanders and several players during a chaotic game Feb. 13 on Long Island. That contest featured the third most penalty minutes in the NHL since 1990 and became a public relations black eye for the league.

Increased concussions from last season -- around 80 reported to date, compared to about 75 in each of the past two seasons -- hasn't helped the league's image.

Also there's Crosby, the NHL's most marketed star, who only started skating yesterday after spending the past 10 weeks dealing with symptoms from a concussion. He was injured by two hits in early January.

The first hit was a collision with then-Washington forward David Steckel on Jan. 1, and it was considered an "accidental" blindside blow. The second was from Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, and it was adjudged an "illegal" hit because he was penalized, according to NHL vice president/public relations Gary Meagher.

Neither hit resulted in disciplinary action from the NHL, which adopted Rule 48 this season to steer blindside blows from the game.

The debate at these meetings is if all blows to the head can be legislated out of hockey.

The Penguins want them banned completely -- with Crosby, Shero and team CEO/president David Morehouse declaring that opinion publicly in recent days.

Support for their cause isn't universal, with many general managers -- from Toronto's old-school Brian Burke to Minnesota's new-age Chuck Fletcher -- citing Rule 48 as successful in limiting illegal hits.

Crosby isn't alone among players who want "clarity" on what constitutes a legal check.

"You can have a clean hit that is violent, so maybe you get those out of the league," Montreal defenseman Hal Gill said over the weekend. "You say, 'Yeah, OK, well, it was a clean hit, but it was right to the guy's head.' "

The minimum protocol for diagnosing potentially concussed players no longer works, according to Bettman.

Effectively immediately, a player that shows concussion-like signs and/or absorbs a high hit will, according to Bettman, "be taken to a quiet place to be evaluated" by a team doctor. That player must pass a baseline neurological test before gaining clearance to return for that or future games.

Crosby returned to the game in January even though he was hit during the second period.

Shero conceded the Penguins probably won't completely get their way from these meetings, which wrap Wednesday. Still, he was "enthused" by the tone of four-hour discussions on the first day.

"We're going to come up with something (for headshots)," he said. "This game's evolving, and we've got to change with it."

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