Monday, February 14, 2011

Mario Under Attack From Scott Burnside's Grandmother's Living Room; GTOG Responds

By Artistry

It's been three days since the Debacle on Long Island, Friday Night Raw, or whatever you want call that embarrassing display by the New York Islanders last Friday night (listen to our podcast on the events in question, here). The Isles sent their goons to ambush the Penguins, the NHL meted out its punishment late on Saturday night, and Mario Lemieux woke up on Sunday with fire in his eyes, and no Ronnie Francis to hold him back.



Lemieux lambasted the league for failing to come down harder on the Islanders for turning Friday's game into a no holds-barred steel cage match. Now the blogosphere knives are out, and they are aimed not at the thugs in Islander uniforms, but squarely at Lemieux. ESPN's Scott Burnside mocks Lemieux for being too busy "working on his short game" to comment on Matt Cooke's trangressions and labels Cooke's hit on Marc Savard "a thousand times worse" than the one that recently concussed Sidney Crosby. Burnside also blasts Lemieux for taking a stand against premeditated violence even though the Penguins are among the league leaders in fighting majors. In sum, Burnside argues, Lemieux's statement was over-the-top, hypocritical, and entirely self-serving. And, Puck Daddy adds, infantile. We here at GTOG are big fans of Scott Burnside. As far as we're concerned, ESPN should release him from his grandmother's living room and allow him to broadcast from a more suitable location.


But Burnside is dead wrong here, and we'd be remiss if we didn't call him out for what sounds like a measure of bitterness, maybe over the fact that Lemieux is intensely private and doesn't give hockey writers the time of day. Here's why he's wrong:

1) Yes, Lemieux employs Matt Cooke. And yes, Matt Cooke has thrown his share of illegal checks. Cooke plays on the edge, and about once a year throws a check that is actually suspension-worthy. But those are plays made during the normal course of a game, and to suggest that Matt Cooke is some kind of outlier is entirely disingenuous. There is a boarding penalty about once every three games in the NHL. Players on other teams commit them all the time, and usually they're a result of one player trying to separate another from the puck, with no intent to injure. One thing Matt Cooke has never done, and this is what distinguishes the events on Long Island, is turn a hockey game into a street fight. I think Burnside is fully capable of making that distinction; he just doesn't want to. Just like he doesn't want to acknowledge that Victor Hedman's hit on Crosby - though less dramatic - was every bit as bad as Cooke's hit on Marc Savard, if not worse. Marc Savard had just released the puck and his head was down. We saw even worse hits from other players last season, notably Mike Richards, and there was much debate about an ambiguity in the rules that actually suggested that kind of hit was legal. In the case of Crosby and Hedman, there is no debate. Crosby didn't have the puck. Hedman hit him squarely from behind, bouncing Crosby's face off the glass. Now the best player in the league may be gone for the season, Hedman wasn't punished, and Lemieux didn't say a word about it.

2) Leading the league in fighting majors does not make Mario a hypocrite.  I'm struggling over whether the argument that Lemieux is a hypocrite because the Penguins take penalties is even worth a response, so I'll keep it brief. Fighting is legal. Two willing combatants sometimes drop the gloves. They each get 5 minutes in the penalty box. The game continues. Assaulting somebody who hasn't agreed to fight and, in fact, isn't even aware he's about to be assaulted, is a different story.

3) This isn't Mario Lemieux's first rodeo. He's been very outspoken for decades about bringing the NHL out of the dark ages. Fans want to see skilled players play, and they do not want to see hockey continually portrayed to the general public - often accurately - as a barbaric sport. Lemieux has always understood this, and the league has always been agonizingly slow in responding to his concerns. His statement on Sunday wasn't just about the Islander game; it was about the Steckel and Hedman hits on Crosby, it was about Scott Hartnell biting Kris Letang, and it was probably about that game when Kerry Fraser wouldn't call a penalty when Mario was getting mugged up and down the ice. If this were the NBA, Matt Martin and Trevor Gillies would be suspended for the rest of the season. No questions asked. In the NHL, the league issues relatively mild suspensions in the middle of the night and hopes it all goes away. Well, Mario Lemieux wasn't going to let that happen. Was he a bit overly dramatic? Perhaps, but he knows you have to throw your gloves pretty high in the air to draw a high sticking penalty. Is he correct that the NHL still is, in too many respects, a "garage league?" Definitely. And if respected hockey people like Scott Burnside don't like it, if they think Lemieux is being childish by threatening to disassociate himself from a league that has been very good but also consistently frustrating to him, believe me, he doesn't care.

33 comments:

  1. I think the reason that Matt Cooke is made out to be the singular pariah of humanity is the same reason that Crosby was said to be such a whiner early on his career:

    When you are on the most popular team in the league, you are on TV all the time; therefore, people actually SEE the stuff that you do, as opposed to someone on Florida or Phoenix who no one cares about. When Crosby was getting blasted for his "whining" it was largely attributable to the fact that after every single whistle, the cameras followed him. If you did the same thing to guys on other teams (why would you?), you'd see almost identical behavior.

    It's a simple explanation.

    Go Pens.

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  2. Oops, I almost forgot my obligatory "Matt Cooke caveat." Ok, here goes: "Yes, Matt Cooke does have some dirty plays."

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  3. There is definitely some resentment toward Mario by the hockey media - there has been since he was a teenager and couldn't speak English. But I do think that Burnside is right to point out that Mario can't just come out of nowhere and throw hay-makers at the league like this. I applaud Mario for being a leader, but he needs to be more consistent with it.

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  4. The Penguins are soft. They need to fight their battles on the ice instead of relying on papa Mario.

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  5. Finally, a take on the Mario faux-controversy that makes sense. I've been to this site a few times, but now an definitely bookmarking it. And I don't even like the Pens.

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  6. NBA comparison is also false - NBA is not a contact league. If people hit each other legally as part of the game, then occasionally there are going to be instances where you go over the line. Hockey is a singularly unique sport in that the game is constantly moving at a fast pace, and there is little time for players to stop and cool down. NFL has hitting, but it is brief bits of action with very long bits in between where they are standing around, or not even involved in the play. In the NHL, you are back on the ice in a few minutes, and the game is constantly in motion, and the action is fast, hard and very physical. Simply banning fighting would make the hockey worse - the release valve it affords helps keep a lot of the worse stuff from going on. Plus physical play IS a very big part of why people watch, not just the superstars.

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  7. No one is talking about banning fighting. The fact that hockey is a contact sport misses the point. Obviously premeditated and illegal attacks on unsuspecting targets should be intolerable across the board, regardless of the arena. I don't care if you're talking about badminton or ultimate fighting.

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  8. The Penguins bench laughed it up after they busted the Islanders goalie's face. Where was Mario to tell his team to stay classy?
    The Islanders wiped the smirk off the Penguins face.

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  9. Rick DiPietro trying to be a hard guy, challenging Johnson to fight, then getting one-punched is funny. Extremely funny. Sorry.

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  10. Thank you.

    After 3 days of blind hate regarding the matter- this was a pleasure to read and, in my opinion, was spot on.

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  11. No one knew DiPietro's face was busted at the time. All the Pens bench knew was that he challenged Johnson and Johnson rocked him. At the time, yes, it was hilarious.

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  12. If Mario was or is so frustrated by the Leagues actions in regards to Friday nights game, maybe he should attend some oweners/governors meetings and voice his concerns there? I would believe that this would have more of an impact, and possible cause for change, then spouting rhetoric from high atop Mt. Mario.

    I am not saying that I do not agree with some of what Mario had to say on Sunday, but I think that there are better ways, more importantly, better forums to do it in. You can talk about change all you want, but don’t just talk about and make idle threats, do something about it.

    And one last thing - GO FLYERS!!!

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  13. Fair point, Chris, although I suspect Mario would say he's been vocal about the league changing its attitude about this kind of thing for many years, the NHL front office says all the right things, and then they never change. He's frustrated and, at the end of the day, he's drawing a lot more attention to the issue by taking it public than he probably ever could otherwise. And don't fall victim to this nonsense Burnside is spouting about Lemieux sitting in his ivory tower. You won't find many other sports figures as involved in their community - at every level - as Lemieux is in Pittsburgh.

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  14. Matt Cooke is a cheapshot artist, when teams play dirty and seem above the law that garbage on friday is what happens.

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  15. How exactly are the Penguins "above the law?" Is this a Steven Seagal movie? Didn't Matt Cooke just get suspended for 4 games and Godard for 10? Not real insightful.

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  16. Nice try, but ultimately, your entire argument seems to be based on "Yeah, but he's MARIO LEMIEUX!".

    Fact is, Pittsburgh teams have played on and over the edge in the past. Ulf Sammuelsson, anyone? How about Darius Kaspairitus? Was what they did part of the game? And since when was Mario Lemieux the keeper of what is and is not part of the game?

    I think Mario's silly rant was far more reflective on the very real possibility that the Pens will be missing out on some playoff revenue this Spring.

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  17. Of course a big part of the argument is that he's Mario Lemieux. That's why people care.

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  18. I love how people react as if they, personally, have been affronted because a team they don't like has a "dirty" player on it. If anyone can name me the NHL team that doesn't have a player who has ever 1) been suspended; 2) gotten a game misconduct; or 3) injured someone on a "dirty" hit, they get a free GTOG t-shirt.

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  19. Mario just got a brand new arena and his team was just valued at a quarter billion bucks. Oh, and Ron Burkle underwrites the team. Don't think he's sweating one round of playoff revenue. Do your homework people, or Mario will dominate you, too.

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  20. Mario is following these comments on an iPhone 5.

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  21. Mario is rethinking whether he wants to be a part of the league while sipping bordeaux out of an MVP trophy.

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  22. I pray for Penguins being paralyzed

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  23. Mario just requested that the Burnside article be read to him by his caddy.

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  24. this reads like a republican/democrat response to the state of the union. Of your three arguments only the 2nd do I agree with- good point and succinctly made.

    Face it dude- Hedman's hit on Crosby was nothing compared to what Cooke did to Savard. nothing. Yes, Crosby is concussed and has been out 6 weeks, but mostly as precaution based on what teams are learning about head injuries. No one can or has argued that Hedman Targeted Crosby's head, or attempted to knock him out. Same with Steckle. Both were hits that happen a thousand times in the course of a season. Cooke's hit on Savard was an attempt to knock Bostons top center out of the game and without intent- knocked him out of two seasons and maybe his career. Don't bring that "he just released the puck..." garbage here. Please. At least admit to yourself that Cooke's hit on Savard was a brutal hit and in a different category than the hits on Crosby.

    As for Mario... Saying "you have to throw your gloves pretty high to get a high-sticking major" only drives home that you're a pens fan (and probably a soccer fan too). So Mario has to fake sincerity and "throw his gloves" to make a point and get noticed? That's called being a Drama Queen. Its a temper tantrum from a grown man who has always used temper tantrums to try and get his way. If he was smart enough (and had any integrity) as Burnsides suggested, he could enter the debate in a meaningful way and be accepted and heralded as a leader.

    But Mario chose drama.

    I, for one, hope he does "leave" the NHL

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  25. Alec, thanks for reading. Despite you not catching any of the irony or subtlety in the post, it's nice to know you care.

    As for the suggestion that we are soccer fans, we resent that. We're Bachelor fans.

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  26. April 8, 2011. I am assuming Mario will be at Nemacolin that night.

    Every owner is glad Mario spoke up (but most won't support him). Fighting is legal in the NHL and the fans love it. But retribution is out of control (see Stars vs Bruins 2 weeks ago... 3 fights in first 4 seconds).

    Mario has to start a conversation about concussions (and this was his way in). You can't have Rule 48 or a top player out of the game cause the refs don't follow their rules.

    go pens. 2012.

    beej

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  27. You lost all credibility by starting the post as an apologist for Matt Cooke. That guy is the dirtiest player in the league, bar none.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nig2naN8NTs

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  28. I've read it twice here now, so I have to comment. Fighting is not legal in the NHL - that's why you get a 5-minute penalty for doing it. The word "penalty" should be a clue. Fighting is accepted, which is why the penalty is not worse. And leading the league in fighting penalties says something about your team. Just sayin' ...

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  29. I think some people would define "legal" as "permissible." Fighting is permissible. And leading the league in fighting does say something about the Penguins. They do what's permissible a lot. Logic 101.

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  30. This article is the most self-serving, biased piece of crap I've ever read.

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  31. Way to step up, Anonymous.

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  32. This is what happens when your entry gets linked from Puck Daddy. Some of these comments are completely insane, and they will get worse. Massive retardation is imminent; get ready for it.

    Nice article, by the way.

    Regards,
    -Rage

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  33. Lemieux was fine winning cups with players like Ulf Samuelson mugging people, and you are being very soft on Cooke. The fact is he is a dirty player. Does his play coming out of the flow of the game and not being premeditated make it better? Making the arguement that guys like Hedman and Richards make dirty plays is foolish - it assumes the reader is fine with that - I am not. In fact I think if the NHL went out and suspended star players who pull this crap it would go a great way towards stopping it. That said, the Isles game was a mess... Martin and Gillies deserved what they got.

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