BOCA RATON, Fla. -- It turns out that while critics were whaling away at Mario Lemieux, the Penguins owner and Hall of Famer was busy crafting a proposal that might help silence his detractors.
Lemieux earlier this month sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman outlining a tiered set of automatic fines that he would like to see the league levy against teams whose players are suspended.
The fines -- ranging from $50,000 to $1 million and doubling for repeat offenders -- would make teams "accountable for the actions of their players," Lemieux wrote. "We propose instituting a policy of automatically fining a team when one of its players is suspended -- with the amount of the fine based on the length of the suspension. This should serve as a disincentive for teams as well as players to employ these kinds of tactics."
Lemieux's letter was sent nearly a month after he issued a scathing statement criticizing the league for, in his view, not handing out sufficient punishment in the aftermath of a 9-3 Penguins loss to the New York Islanders in which 346 penalty minutes were assessed. The Penguins' Eric Godard was suspended for 10 games for leaving the bench in an altercation. The Islanders' Trevor Gillies was suspended nine games for elbowing Eric Tangradi, and Matt Martin was suspended four games for a hit from behind on Max Talbot of the Penguins.
The Islanders also were fined $100,000.
The NHL barely reacted to Lemieux's statement, with officials saying only that it was comfortable with the discipline the Islanders received.
Lemieux was denounced in some quarters for chastising the NHL but not commenting further or offering a solution. He was also labeled a hypocrite because he employs hard-hitting winger Matt Cooke, who is considered one of the league's dirtier players.
Lemieux asked that his ideas be used in a discussion with general managers and the board of governors because the NHL's supplemental discipline "affects not only the integrity but the perception of our great game," he wrote.
"The current system punishes the offending player but does very little to deter such actions in the future. We need to review, upgrade and more clearly define our policies in this regard, so that they can provide a meaningful deterrence and effectively clean up the game."
While not acknowledging Lemieux's letter, Bettman announced Monday during scheduled general managers meetings that he will address the board of governors at their June meetings and let them know "that clubs will ultimately be responsible for the actions of their players so that if a player or players on a club are the subjects of repeat disciplinary procedures that result in supplemental discipline, ultimately it is the club and perhaps the coach that will be held responsible."
Bettman mentioned that the NHL "fined the Islanders for a game we thought was out of control," and said the league will crack down starting next season. He did not spell out what fines or other punishment might be instituted.
"The notion is, if there is a situation or a club where this seems to be out of the norm, something that continues to happen on a routine basis, it should be addressed," Bettman said.
That seemed to be the gist of what Lemieux was calling for in his earlier statement, when he described the Islanders game as a "travesty" and a "sideshow" and said the NHL failed to protect the integrity of the game by issuing inadequate supplemental discipline.
Under his plan, if a player is suspended one or two games, his team would be fined $50,000; three or four games, a $100,000 fine; five to eight games, a $250,000 fine; nine or 10 games, a $500,000 fine; 11-15 games, a $750,000 fine; and more than 15 games, a $1 million fine. Those dollar amounts would double for a repeat offender.
Lemieux pointed out in the letter that if his system had been in place this season, the Penguins would have been fined $600,000 so far, for Godard's 10-game suspension and a four-game suspension to Cooke.