Starkey: Lemieux's words reverberate
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Lest anyone had forgotten, Mario Lemieux still carries immeasurable clout.
The man did not even speak Sunday — he released a statement ripping the National Hockey League for its weak response to Friday's debacle on Long Island — and his words have been parsed as if they had poured from The Book of Revelation.
Not much of what he said was revelatory. Aside from the Islanders' pea-brained general manager, Garth Snow, and his army of dimwits, most everyone agrees Lemieux was right.
Obviously, the game was a "travesty." Obviously, the Islanders' actions were as premeditated as an armed robbery, and the punishments were light or nonexistent. Consider the measly four-game suspension of Matt Martin, the punk who pulled a Todd Bertuzzi on Max Talbot.
But the hockey world is dying to know, was there deeper meaning in Lemieux's lament?
Is there significance in the first two paragraphs totaling 66 words?
Is he angry over the unpunished hits on Sidney Crosby?
Was he decrying the state of the game?
Lemieux isn't talking, so I suppose we'll have to wait for his next meaningful public utterance, perhaps in the form of a skywriting flyover in 2026.
Meantime, some of my favorite NHL scholars have attempted to decipher The Statement. A sampling ...
Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated , wrote that Lemieux was correct but also this: "At times, Lemieux's statement verged on the absurd — now that he can splash in the revenue streams of Pittsburgh's lavish new arena, it's dubious that he would be in a hurry to share his stake in the club."
My take: Hopefully, even Lemieux realizes that his final paragraph — "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." — was regrettable. If interested in effecting change, he should engage in meaningful dialogue with the same league officials who staunchly backed him in erecting the gold mine known as Consol Energy Center. Don't threaten to take your puck and go home, especially when the threat is as empty as Trevor Gillies' head.
Kevin Allen, USA Today , strongly backed Lemieux's statement and said, "He has earned the right" to make his points. Agreed. But Allen also acknowledged the statement "probably was ill-timed in the sense that he has Matt Cooke playing for him."
Kevin Paul Dupont, Boston Globe , tweeted: "Note to Mario Lemieux: Rather than tossing stones at the NHL, how about tossing Matt Cooke out of your dressing room?"
My take: The Penguins hate the Cooke angle almost as much as the rest of the league hates Cooke. It's true Cooke wasn't even in the game Friday. But when the owner says the NHL must do a better job "protecting the safety of our players," Cookie Monster crashes into the conversation (likely from the blind side).
One could argue that while Martin's ambush of Talbot was "premeditated," Cooke's hit on, say, Marc Savard was "heat of the moment." But they fall under the same heading: Vicious and Potentially Career-ending Shots Aimed at the Head of an Unsuspecting Player.
Does the concussed victim care if the hit was premeditated?
Try reading The Statement aloud while watching video of Cooke's blindside hit on Fedor Tyutin. Then tell me there is no hint of hypocrisy here. Or imagine the Penguins' response had Cooke been playing for the Capitals last year and did to Crosby what he did to Savard, without punishment.
I'm guessing Lemieux might have shown up in person to address that one.
By the way, at least one of Cooke's teammates — defenseman Brooks Orpik — publicly backed the NHL's four-game suspension for the hit on Tyutin. Asked if it was fair or not, Orpik said, "Fair. That's a dangerous hit."
Which leads us to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News . Campbell is a strong voice against hockey's culture of violence. He commended Lemieux for raising a hand against it. He just wonders what took so long — and he gets to the core of the matter, playing on Lemieux's use of the word "sideshow:"
Every time the dancing bears, some of whom are employed by Lemieux's team, come out and take part in a fight that is clearly staged and pre-meditated, it represents an embarrassing sideshow for the NHL. When a goalie skates the length of the ice to challenge a guy ... it's a sideshow. When players start running around like lunatics once the score gets out of reach to send their opponents a message, that's a sideshow.
My take: Yes, yes and yes. Once you allow fighting, you cannot be surprised at any form of mayhem that follows. It's like providing free beer all day and expecting everyone to drive home safely at night.
Intended or not, The Statement has reignited a discussion on violence in hockey.
And that is a good thing.
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