A few days ago, Mario Lemieux became one of the most polarizing people in hockey. He released a statement criticizing the league for not employing more punishment on the New York Islanders for the brawl they had in their game against his Penguins. Lemieux said that the league needed to act harsher to keep the integrity of the game, and if they didn’t, he may no longer want to be a part of it.
While its hard to disagree with the message Lemieux was sending, the fact that his team leads the NHL in majors and fights (and the fact he signs Matt Cooke’s checks) have led some (including myself) to call him a hypocrite. Something else that makes Lemieux look bad here is that he is calling for league change, but it is well-documented he does not take part in most of the meetings and remains generally uninvolved with the league’s operations. Many had things to say regarding Lemieux, but no one said it better than Steve Yzerman himself.
“I think Mario is one of the most well-respected, intelligent people in the game,” Yzerman said on a conference call Monday. “I would encourage him, [and] I think we all should encourage him to get more involved with the league because he has a lot to offer.” If that isn’t the classiest smack down I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is.
Yzerman managed to simultaneously give Mario his due respect, call him out for not being more involved in the game he claims to love, and discredit his statement all at once. And he did it while sounding like the nicest person on the planet.
Yzerman’s comments are spot on. It’s not unlike when politicians complain about an issue but have no solution for it themselves. If you are genuinely concerned about something, you take measures to fix it yourself. If you aren’t willing to do that, particularly when you are someone with as much respect and power as Mario Lemieux, you don’t get to sit back an criticize.
This is a problem Lemieux has had for a while. While he is one of the best players the game has ever seen, he is perhaps its worst “ambassador”. He came in and saved the Penguins, making him an eternal hero in Pittsburgh. But he has done nothing to help the game with his raised profile. He is a low-key guy, and that’s fine. He turned out for the Winter Classic, which is great.
However, if he is that concerned with what the league is doing and how it’s being run, maybe he should take a page out of Steve Yzerman’s book: get involved. Either try to help solve the problem, or shut up. By-standers shouldn’t get a voice.