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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Trevor Gillies' punishment coming too late

By Scott Burnside



Somewhere Mario Lemieux is wagging his finger at those of us who criticized him and saying, "Look, you eggheads, was I right or was I right?"

And watching Trevor Gillies step back onto the ice after a nine-game suspension and immediately try to take Cal Clutterbuck's head off Wednesday night, it was hard not to agree with Lemieux on at least some points.

We hate that, by the way.

Lemieux threw a fit last month when the Islanders turned a game with Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins into a scene from "Gangs of New York."

Gillies earned a nine-game suspension for first blindsiding Eric Tangradi, pummeling the Penguins forward while he was down, and then taunting him from the runway to the dressing room.

Tangradi has yet to return from that beating.

Matt Martin earned a four-game suspension for sucker-punching Max Talbot while AHL thug Micheal Haley inexplicably escaped punishment after he tried to fight netminder Brent Johnson -- talk about the brave and the bold -- prompting Eric Godard to leave the Pens' bench and defend his goaltender, a move that earned Godard the longest suspension of the bunch: 10 games.

In the aftermath, Lemieux insisted the NHL had failed, and then destroyed his own message by threatening to leave the game. Haven't seen a "For sale" sign up in front of Consol Energy Center, so I can only assume Lemieux has reconsidered.

But in the wake of Gillies' performance Wednesday, it's hard not to agree with Lemieux's assessment of how the NHL responded to the situation. That is to say, they failed to send an adequate message not just to Gillies -- who apparently has learned nothing and right now has the same career prospects as a turnip -- but also to others in the league that take their behavioral cues from plays like this.

Gillies is on a collision course with a one-way trip to hockey purgatory. He is scheduled to meet with the head of NHL discipline, Colin Campbell, on Friday morning.

Of course, had Campbell done his job and suspended Gillies for 20 games after the Pens-Isles debacle Feb. 11, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

So when Campbell ices Gillies for the rest of the season (that's our guess), little will have been accomplished other than to reinforce that the league's blueprint for supplemental discipline was actually lifted from a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game.

No doubt the Islanders will moan about the outcome, complaining that Clutterbuck was actually the villain for his hit from behind on Justin DiBenedetto and that Gillies was just standing up for his teammate (or, rather, just blindsiding an unsuspecting opponent in a vengeance-fueled seek-and-destroy mission, but we digress).

That was the Isles' response to the Feb. 11 game, whining to league officials that Pittsburgh got preferential treatment and that the Isles were being picked on because, well, they're the Islanders. Seems pretty silly now, doesn't it?

How refreshing would it be to hear something different from GM Garth Snow?

How about a strong statement about how Gillies has played his last game as an Islander?

It's not as though it would hurt an Islanders team that has suddenly showed all kinds of promise.

But even if it was more optics than anything else, wouldn't it be refreshing for a GM like Snow to come out and say, "Listen, I don't want my kids seeing that, and I am sure our fans don't want their kids seeing that, and it's not how we do business; that's not Islanders hockey"?

Think Snow might make some public relations hay with something like that?

Love to see it.

Just as we would have loved to see Lemieux acknowledge that maybe everyone in the league has a responsibility for changing the culture of disrespect and selfishness, including the Penguins.

Instead -- for all the devastating losses to the game thanks to players like Gillies, players who think only of their own tiny little place in the world -- it's still the natural impulse to circle the wagons and blame someone else.

So, by the time the NHL sends Trevor Gillies' sorry butt packing for what we assume will be the balance of the season, the time for making a real statement, for facilitating real change, will have come and gone again.

And so we will wait for the next fiasco to fuel our outrage and hope for something other than complete disgust.