The two Simons

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Chris Simon is about to be given NHL parole. Someone, hide the women and children!

"Obviously, he has a low threshold for keeping it together because when he snaps, he reall-l-ly snaps. Some of us have the ability to kind of hold back," said the Maple Leafs' Wade Belak yesterday, of his fellow NHL heavyweights.

Simon practised with the Islanders yesterday and is one week from completing his NHL record 30-game suspension.

"He's a loud voice in the dressing room and we've missed him," goaltender Rick DiPietro said last night after the Albany River Rats disguised as the Islanders beat the Leafs 5-4.

In addition to Simon, the Islanders were missing five players to injuries so his return couldn't come soon enough to his teammates.

"It means a lot to have him back," coach Ted Nolan said yesterday. "He's just a fierce competitor."

Some might suggest a bit too fierce.

"Sometimes it just goes a little too far," admitted Nolan. But, he adds: "Off the ice, and even sometimes on the ice, he can be one of the softest, sweetest guys you'd want to meet."

Try telling that to Ryan Hollweg when Simon took a stick to his face in March, 2007. That earned him a 25-game suspension.

Try telling that to Jarkko Ruutu on Dec. 15 when Simon stomped on his leg with his skate blade, earning the 30-gamer.

"Unfortunately we look at all the negative things he's done. Hopefully people start to look at some of the good things that he's done," said Nolan, although there are no documented incidents of Simon helping little, old ladies across Yonge St.

True, he helps disadvantaged aboriginal youth. He gets bonus points for a trip to the Manitoba Youth Centre.

But it is fair to believe that most people not wearing Islanders orange are not certain which Chris Simon will turn up on the ice Feb. 21.

He represents both the best and worst of this game. He is intense, He over-reacts. He is loathed. He is admired.

But Belak points out he is more than just a gunslinger.

"He contributes a lot to that team," Belak said. "He can play. He's big, he can fight, he can score and he's a good leader. The two guys he lost his mind on were agitators and I wish there were other rules to deal with those guys.

"But, that's the game and we have to be in control of our actions."

The Islanders have struggled without him, falling to 13th place. But last night they got four power-play goals and killed a two-man disadvantage.

"Last year, people left us for dead and we made the playoffs and there's a lot of hockey left this year, too," said a defiant DiPietro.

The Islanders called up Blake Comeau to replace Simon and he has worked well on a kid line with Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen. But, for better and worse, he's no Simon.

"(Chris) makes a difference with his presence," Nolan said. "He makes everyone else bigger, tougher. When he's not there, it's kind of like your big brother is not there any more, it's like your mom and dad not holding on to your hand at a carnival any more. You need that comfort. You need that protection."

TAKING LIBERTIES

Other teams have taken advantage of the Islanders.

"No question," Nolan said. "You have to bite your lips and hold your tongue. You see players who wouldn't hit their sister, all of a sudden they see us without some of our toughness and they're taking liberties we never saw before."

For the record, Simon has said that he knows what he did was wrong.

For the record, Simon has said that he has learned his lesson.

For the record, he declined to discuss it all publicly yesterday.

"I wish I would've learned the first time," Simon told Long Island reporters Wednesday, "but I've got to focus on being the best I can be and to help my team to do whatever it takes to win and to move forward, but to learn from the past."

Flushing $292,683 US in lost salary down the toilet can make a guy pause, to think -- which, judging from his past brain-cramps, probably isn't the dumbest move he has ever made.


Videos

Photos