Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Simon once again put himself first, ahead of his teammates
By Scott Burnside
It is hard to imagine that with the NHL handing down a 30-game suspension to New York Islanders miscreant Chris Simon on Wednesday -- the seventh of his long, punishing NHL career -- that we have not seen the last of the enforcer.
And while it might sound harsh, good riddance.
If ever there was a player whose time has passed, if ever there was a player whose repeatedly aberrant behavior has forfeited his place in the exclusive club of NHL hockey players, it is Simon.
Well-regarded by former coaches and teammates, Simon, 35, has on many levels been a leader and role model to young players, especially Native players, given Simon's well-documented battle with alcohol. It doubles the shame that the enduring image of Simon's career will be his senseless stomping on the foot of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu while Ruutu lay on the ice near the players' benches in a game last Saturday night.
Now, maybe Simon saw a bug on Ruutu's skate. No one wants a nasty bug bite.
Maybe Simon thought Ruutu had gangrene. Best to get it early before it spreads.
Maybe Simon heard some country music and thought he was at a square dance. Stomp your partners, y'all.
Or maybe Simon, for all he's been through, simply doesn't get it.
This is a man who won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and took the Cup to his hometown of Wawa, Ontario. He was a mainstay in Washington for parts of seven NHL seasons and was part of a Caps team that went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. He once scored 29 goals and gained a reputation, if short-lived, as having one of the hardest, quickest releases in the NHL. More recently, Simon played a minor role in the Calgary Flames' march to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals.
Unlike many players, Simon has enjoyed a place at the pinnacle of the game. And, whatever demons continue to torment Simon off the ice, he has simply been unable to accept the gift he has been given, preferring instead to indulge his own needs to lash out, punish and hurt.
Had this been the first such incident, perhaps you could explain it away as heat-of-the-moment stuff from a player who has played most of his 770 games at, or over, the edge. But late last season, Simon embarrassed himself and his team in a most egregious manner by chopping New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg samurai-style after Hollweg drilled Simon into the boards.
|Could Chris Simon's last NHL game be Saturday's match-up against Pittsburgh?|
The incident once again made headlines and highlight reels around North America, reinforcing for some the perception that this is a lawless game populated by cowboys and hooligans. The incident earned Simon a monster 25-game suspension. That he so completely lost control with his team in the midst of a playoff run was inexcusable. That he cost his teammates a tough, physical player in their first-round playoff series against top-ranked Buffalo was likewise inexcusable.
But the Isles did excuse it. Islanders coach Ted Nolan returned Simon to the team. In a perfect world, Simon would have responded by being doubly vigilant in controlling his behavior on the ice and dedicated himself to regaining his teammates' trust.
Because isn't that what is at the bedrock of all successful hockey teams -- players who are willing to put down their own self-interest, whether it's scoring goals or stopping pucks or beating the tar out of someone, for the good of the group? Isn't it?
If so, it is surely time for the Isles to wash their hands of this man.
Rescued from hockey's scrap heap by Nolan -- a Canadian Native who knows something of the harsh world of pro sports, having been blacklisted from the NHL for a decade or so -- Simon was unable to repay Nolan's trust, but rather made a mockery of it.
Whatever issues Simon has off the ice, he needs to take care of them and the team needs to move on. The first step came Monday, when the Islanders announced that, regardless of how the NHL ruled on the incident, Simon would take time away from the team to get his act together.
Whether that means counseling or something else, the underlying message was clear from owner Charles Wang on down: The Islanders have had enough.
It is a difficult thing to turn your back on a teammate. It goes against the DNA of most hockey players. But in this case, Simon has made it easy, having turned his back on them.
One can only imagine he has done so for the last time.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
Chris Simon's suspension history
||Alleged racial remarks
|*Suspended for rest of 2006-07 regular season, playoffs and part of 2007-08 season to reach 25 games.
**Occurred during playoffs