Steve Yzerman wants to hear more from Mario Lemieux.
“I think Mario is one of the most well-respected, intelligent people in the game,” the Tampa Bay Lightning GM said Monday on a conference call. “I would encourage him (and) I think we should all encourage him to get more involved with the league because he has a lot to offer.”
Lemieux made headlines over the weekend by criticizing the NHL’s handling of supplemental discipline following a fight-filled matchup between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Calling the game a “travesty,” the Penguins co-owner said the NHL failed to send the proper message after fining the Islanders US$100,000 and handing two of the team’s players 13 games in suspensions—nine to Trevor Gillies for an elbow to the head of Eric Tangradi and four to Matt Martin for sucker-punching Max Talbot.
“We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action,” Lemieux said in his statement. “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.”
A source confirmed to The Canadian Press on Monday that Lemieux wouldn’t be fined by the NHL for his biting comments.
The Hockey Hall of Famer has kept a low profile since ending his playing career in January 2006. While not endorsing Lemieux’s criticism of league discipline, Yzerman indicated that he hopes his former Team Canada teammate will continue to speak his mind.
“Specifically, I don’t know (what more he could do),” said Yzerman. “Again, Mario is really a bright guy and he’s really a good guy and he’s been around the league and carries a lot of weight.
“I think everyone would encourage to be more involved in everything we do as a league.”
Lemieux was unafraid to vent his frustration as a player—famously calling the NHL a “garage league” in 1992—but has rarely expressed an opinion in his role as an owner.
In fact, he’s taken part in just two news conferences over the last 20 months. Lemieux answered questions after an alumni game during the recent Winter Classic in Pittsburgh and a couple hours before Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final.
His statement Sunday certainly got the hockey world talking.
“Obviously, when Mario says something it has to be heard and respected,” said Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri. “I think the reason it has such an impact is because of his reputation and his track record. He’s never been a whistle-blower or anything like that.
“He’s a guy who is so well-respected and his outlook on the game is pretty keen, so when someone like that has something to say we should all probably listen.”
The Islanders were among those that didn’t like what they heard from Super Mario. Forward Zenon Konopka, who grew up idolizing Lemieux, thought the Penguins owner was off the mark.
“As soon as I get home, I’m going to take the poster off my bedroom door of Mario,” Konopka told reporters in Ottawa on Monday afternoon. “I can’t believe he is that far removed from the game that he doesn’t realize … in the heat of the moment what happens.”
The number of fights around the NHL has risen sharply in the last few weeks as the intensity of playoff races seems to have picked up.
Yzerman was home watching TV on Friday night but didn’t catch much of the Penguins-Islanders game that featured 346 penalty minutes and 10 ejections.
“I was watching other games actually at the time and every time I flipped back I missed all the action,” said Yzerman. “(But) it’s strange, there’s been a few brawls lately. We haven’t had that much in a long time.”
The Lightning are currently in the midst of a record-tying 12-game homestand. On Thursday, they’ll host the Detroit Red Wings—the organization Yzerman spent 27 years with before taking the job with Tampa last May.
With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal