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My Dearest Mario, I Trust You're Done Re-Thinking?

Sideshow, you say?
Sideshow, you say?

"...what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

"We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.

"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."

--The infallible Mario Lemieux, after the NHL "only" suspended Trevor Gillies 9 games, Matt Martin 4 games, fined the New York Islanders $100,000, and let the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma off without reprimand* in February 2011

*Eric Godard received a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to fight, but that was automatic -- or at least more automatic than the suspension his coach escaped for "trying" to restrain him.

A year later, with the Penguins losing control of their playoff series with the Flyers, all of this happened Sunday afternoon. Just one highlight of many (more links below):

And this was some of the weak explanation offered by the Perfect Franchise's captain. Jesse Spector at The Sporting News recounted some of Sidney Crosby's afternoon:

That was twice that Crosby started fights he could not finish, and that was the example by which he led the Penguins deeper into the abyss.

Heavens, how could anyone ever have the nerve to call that organization "arrogant"? How could anyone have the nerve to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the Penguins harbor their fair share of dirty players doing dirty things that jeopardize "the integrity of the game" and, in fact, make it quite the sideshow on Sunday afternoon national TV?

In truth, as is so often the case, poor officiating, conflicting messages from the league and inconsistent supplementary discipline like we've seen in the 2012 playoffs helps enable this atmosphere of chaotic violence and grown men reacting to adversity by behaving like dangerously armed children.

(Shea Weber, Carl Hagelin, Matt Carkner, Byron Bitz -- why are we parsing different degrees of these reckless, injurious actions when they should all be deemed intolerable, full stop? Meanwhile, Zenon Konopka is speaking of "stitches and blood" in his own series, where Carkner was dressed to go after Brian Boyle, who himself targeted a very good hockey player with a series of headshots, and where Hagelin inexplicably has the longest suspension of the postseason such that I actually sympathize with an official statement from the Rangers organization. Strange times.)

The Glass House that Mario Built

But as they sometimes do (yet never admit to), yesterday the Penguins took it to the lowest part of the gutter in a young playoff season already filled with plenty of gutter-dwelling. And rather than guns-for-hire, it was their starlet captain and their 40-goal sniper leading the race to the bottom.

There was coach Dan Bylsma, who likes to maintain a studious, even keel, "I am serious about hockey and above such silliness" persona, running James Neal out there after Neal had just taken the head off Sean Couturier to take the head off Claude Giroux too. One can only assume that Bylsma, as he did last February, "tried" to keep it all from going down that way.

Our original protests from February 2011 stand: Don't act like your Penguin don't stink. Don't go preaching and chastising other organizations when you have plenty of dirt in your own Igloo which you haven't bothered to clean up.

(And no, finally sending Matt Cooke to reprogramming after three seasons of embracing his base rejection of player safety does not count as "cleanup." Rather, after Cooke was suspended for an entire playoff round, telling him to shape up looks a whole lot like "business.")

It's hockey and it's violent and it's senseless and it's maddening, yet we all love it while we nonetheless rip it apart and incessantly debate how to improve it. Yes, we try to improve it. But it doesn't do much good to only sound the alarm when it's your team's turn to receive the kind of beating it's all too willing to deliver whenever it gets the chance.

So I'm going to assume that either: 1) Lemieux is going to come out with a harsh statement critical of his own team's (and tenant's) sideshow behavior in Sunday's mess, or 2) Lemieux is done with that whole "re-thinking my involvement" bit and has learned to stop worrying and just love the bomb -- the bomb, incidentally, that's been in his team's arsenal for his entire playing career and tenure as an NHL owner. Gotta be one or the other, right?

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