Lemieux hypocritical in blasting league?

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP)

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:49 PM ET

Mario Lemieux doesn't talk much.

When he does, the NHL should reach for an umbrella.

The former Pittsburgh Penguins superstar-turned-owner dumped all over the league Sunday for what he thought was leniency towards the miscreants in Friday night's gong show between the Pens and the New York Islanders.

It's not the first time Lemieux has sunk his teeth into the hand that feeds him.

In 1992, he called the NHL a "garage league," because he wasn't happy with the hooking and holding and obstruction which was being permitted in that expansion era to level the playing field.

Having a former superstar-turned-owner speaking out the way he did against the NHL brand is big news. It would be even bigger if Lemieux didn't come off as being a bit of a hypocrite.

Lemieux's comments lose a portion of their impact when you consider he signs the paycheque for winger Matt Cooke.

Cooke has been the instigator of much of the discussion about where the NHL went off the rails, starting with his devastating elbow to the head of Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard. That blow could very well have been the beginning of the end of Savard's career.

Okay, the hit was deemed legal at the time, but was so vicious it led to the implementation of Rule 48 against blindside hits directed at the heads of unsuspecting opponents.

Though current Penguins captain Sidney Crosby -- ironically, who has the rest of his season in doubt after a couple of blows to his own noggin -- didn't like Cooke's hit on Savard, and said so at the time, where was Lemieux's voice back then?

This smacks of the usual attitude in the NHL, which sees people remain mum when it's one of their guys responsible for the mayhem and screaming from the highest mountain when it's anybody else.

Even after they have been put into context, Lemieux's comments are still noteworthy.

If the NHL isn't going to crack down on stuff like we saw Friday night, Lemieux threatened to re-think his involvement in the game. The comments bring more attention to a heightened viciousness on the NHL's rinks these days.

"These are emotional games," said Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, whose club was on the bad end of a series of brawls against the Boston Bruins Wednesday night. "This time of year, there's a lot of points at stake, big points. Teams are fighting for the last spots and that's why you see the emotion come out."

But there's emotion and then there's ... well, something else.

I love a good goalie fight or two stars dropping the gloves because they are caught up in the emotion of the game.

Maybe that makes me a neanderthal (though I have no use for the staged, drop-of-the-puck fights in which players engage to justify their existence).

But what we've seen lately is the line moved, the unwritten "code" shifting and changing to make it even less understandable. There is a burgeoning malicousness to what we are seeing now, an unabashed and transparent willfullness to inflict as much damage as possible on a opponent.

The 1970s saw some tough, merciless hockey, but almost none of the blatant headhunting we see now on an almost nightly basis.

Lemieux has spoken up again and you can always hope his words will bring some change to NHL rinks, which have rapidly become dangerous places.

Just ask Savard. Or Crosby. Or any of the players who are suspected to have been concussed by cheapshots Friday.

But don't hold your breath.

It only took the NHL 13 years and a lockout to crack down on the obstruction which had Lemieux calling it a garage league in 1992.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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