TORONTO – Chris Simon was slapped with the longest suspension for an on-ice in NHL history Wednesday and will lose close to US$300,000 in wages.
And it could have been worse. An eighth career NHL suspension suggests that Simon may not have learned his lesson but the league decided that 30 games was sufficient.
“(NHL executive) Mike Murphy and I were talking about that fact – has he given up his right or his privilege to play in the National Hockey League?” league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said Wednesday.
But in the end, after much thought and deliberation, Campbell felt he had the right number, especially combined with the counselling Simon will seek out.
“We would hope that 30 games along with what the Islanders have set him up with as far as the off-ice counselling – we hope that does it,” Campbell said on a conference call.
“We’re not dealing with a guy here who doesn’t care,” he later added. “We’re dealing with a guy who is liked by all his teammates and managers and coaches. But he just snaps. And we can’t have that. Because now we’re talking about the safety of other players on the ice.”
A source said Simon is undergoing “behavioural management” counselling.
Simon did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday.
The Islanders would not divulge what he was getting counselling for, saying it was a private matter. Campbell said he did not ask during his hearing with Simon in Toronto on Tuesday.
“No, I didn’t,” said Campbell. “I just know who he’s dealing with. I know that both the Players’ Association and the NHL have worked with this group and they’re a good group. I’m hoping that it does work out.”
A popular player in the dressing room on all six NHL clubs he’s played for, the 35-year-old native of Wawa, Ont., has shown a dark side on the ice with several incidents in which he simply snapped.
The latest came last Saturday night when Simon stomped on Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jarkko Ruutu. Last March he received a 25-game suspension for a two-handed stick swing to the face of New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
His other suspensions:
-Five pre-season games in 1994 for slashing Dennis Vial in the head.
-Three games in 1997 after directing a racial slur toward player Mike Grier, who is black.
-One game in the 2000 playoffs after cross-checking Peter Popovic across the throat.
-In April 2001, Simon drew a two-game ban for elbowing Anders Eriksson.
-Two games in 2004 for cross-checking Ruslan Fedotenko and then jumping on him and punching him.
-Two games, also in 2004, for kneeing star defenceman Sergei Zubov.
Given the track record, did Campbell consider a lifetime ban this time around?
“Not lifetime, we never considered lifetime,” said Campbell. “But we considered a lengthier suspension than 30 games. We considered a lot of numbers.”
This was the costliest of them all. Because he is a repeat offender, Simon forfeits $292,683 in salary. The Islanders signed Simon to a one-year deal last summer for $475,000 and included another $325,000 in potential bonuses.
He will be eligible to return Feb. 21 against Tampa Bay. Simon has the right to appeal the suspension.
“If they do appeal, they have to appeal to (commissioner) Gary Bettman,” said Campbell.
Simon missed the first five games of this season while completing a 25-game ban handed out in March. That was the previous record for an NHL suspension.
Campbell is getting used to seeing Simon in person for a hearing.
“He’s very contrite and very apologetic,” Campbell said in describing Simon’s demeanour during these hearings. “And very quiet, almost to the point where he’s somewhat humiliated by what he’s done himself. And that’s probably the disheartening fact to this.”
But Campbell said Simon has never promised he wouldn’t do it again.
“You would hope he wouldn’t do it again but maybe he can’t help himself. I don’t know,” said Campbell. “He’s never actually come out and said, ‘I will never do this again.”‘
Simon took a leave from the Islanders on Monday, agreeing with the team that he needed time away from hockey following his latest penalty for attempting to injure an opponent.
“Since Saturday night, the focus of the New York Islanders has been on Chris Simon the person, not him as a player or on his place in our lineup,” Isles GM Garth Snow said in a statement Wednesday. “As we announced on Monday, the Islanders are going to provide Chris the time and support that he needs for counselling. For Chris right now, hockey must be secondary to the priority of taking care of himself.
“Chris has played 15 seasons in the National Hockey League, has won a Stanley Cup and just as importantly has won the respect of his teammates. He is an Islander, deserves our compassion, and we ask that all Islanders fans join us in supporting Chris every step of the way.”
Late in New York’s loss to the Penguins on Saturday, with the Islanders trailing 3-2, Simon drew a match penalty when he pulled out Ruutu’s leg, sending the forward to his knees between the team benches. Simon then stepped on the back of Ruutu’s leg with his skate.
Simon was ejected and the Islanders were a man short for all but the final 54 seconds of the loss.
“There is no excuse for my actions … and I apologize to everyone involved,” Simon said Monday in a statement. “The Islanders and I agree that the right thing to do is for me to take some time away from the team.
“I have enjoyed a long career achieving my dream of being a player in the National Hockey League and I’m proud of my accomplishments. But I acknowledge that time and assistance is needed before I return to the game.”
His teammates stuck by him this week.
“Chris is a good guy, he’s a great teammate, he’s a good friend who did something wrong,” said Islanders captain Bill Guerin. “He just needs a little time and a little support from his family and friends and his teammates.
“He understands what he did, we all do. There’ll be consequences, and that’s not for us to decide, but we’re here to support him and to make sure things get straightened out.”
Simon had 10 goals and 17 assists in 67 games last season. He had one goal and two assists in 26 games this season as well as 51 penalty minutes.