THE NHL is notjust the league of missing teeth. At times it has suffered from a missingspine, whether it's been a failure to come down hard on on-ice misdeeds orplayers failing to police their labor leaders. But last week, in a surprisingand gratifying display of integrity that salvaged a potentially disastrous newscycle, the league's brass said a resounding "No" to gratuitousviolence, and its players did the same to alleged union chicanery. It was not,as hockey goes, business as usual.
Colin Campbell,NHL senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations,certainly got it right in the sorry case of Chris Simon, the Islanders wingerwho might have a career as a lumberjack if this hockey thing doesn't work out.Simon poleaxed Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg with a two-handed swing to the jawlast Thursday, sickening stick work that even a contrite Simon admitted has noplace in the game. Hollweg, who must have Kevlar stubble, took a few stitchesand actually returned to the match. Campbell could have punished the resultrather than the intent—little harm, little foul. Instead he went all hangingjudge, suspending Simon for the rest of the season and the playoffs, a minimumof 25 games. In terms of games it's the longest ban ever imposed.
Campbell alsoimplicitly rejected Simon's variation of the Twinkie Defense: that his judgmentmight have been impaired by a concussion sustained when Hollweg checked himinto the boards seconds earlier. Rather than feeling less like himself,however, Simon might have been feeling more like himself. In his 14-year careerhe has been suspended six times, twice for dangerous stick use. His ban won'tend hockey goonery—Toronto coach Paul Maurice noted the death penalty hasn'thalted murder—but it was most welcome, particularly since in the last two weeksCampbell gave Ottawa's Chris Neil a pass for a late, concussive hit onBuffalo's Chris Drury and suspended New Jersey's Cam Janssen just three gamesfor a cheap shot to the head of Toronto's Tomas Kaberle. The difference: Thosehits fell under the broad definition of hockey plays, while Simon's lunacy wascloser to Marty McSorley's stalking of Donald Brashear in 2000 and ToddBertuzzi's criminal assault of Steve Moore in '04, two severely punished actsbeyond the game.
Meanwhile, themembers of the NHL Players Association also decided enough was enough. SinceTed Saskin replaced Bob Goodenow as executive director 20 months ago, there hasbeen persistent grumbling about his leadership. Much of it is fallout from the2004--05 lockout that ended when the players accepted a salary cap on top of a24% salary rollback; there have also been whispers that the union's financeshave been mishandled. The tipping point came on March 5, when the Toronto Starreported that police were investigating complaints that Saskin and unionofficial Ken Kim had monitored members' e-mails on the PA server, perhaps tokeep tabs on what the anti-Saskin camp was thinking. (No charges have beenfiled.) Saskin acknowledged that e-mails were read but said the practice beganwhen Goodenow was in charge, and that he didn't learn about it until later.
Goodenow swiftlydenied spying, and the scandal gave the union's dissident faction moreammunition. The membership was roiled by the charges that privacy had beeninvaded. On Sunday night, after a conference call involving playerrepresentatives and union officials, Saskin and Kim were placed on paid leavesof absence. The union also hired lawyers to help them fire Saskin and avoidpaying his $2 million salary. "There'd always been complaints, but I'venever seen the PA recoil like this," one veteran player told SI.
The union shouldknow to keep a close eye on its leaders. In 1998 its first executive director,Alan Eagleson, pleaded guilty to fraud for mishandling player funds and servedsix months in prison. Goodenow, Eagleson's successor, promised he would wringevery possible dollar out of ownership, which he did until the disastrouslockout, but his legacy will be tarnished if Saskin, once his top lieutenant,successfully links him to Big Brother snooping. And Saskin's ascension to theunion throne always struck players such as Detroit's Chris Chelios as more ofan inside job than a hiring. There wasn't a proper search, just a hurriedpromotion and an overly generous compensation package.
The players mighthave rushed into Saskin, but they are likely to usher him out slowly butforcefully so they can accomplish what they want without incurring awrongful-dismissal suit or having to pay a hefty severance. Hockey will nolonger take it on the chin.
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Excuse of the Week
PISTONS GUARD Lindsey Hunter said the bannedamphetamine in his system came from a diet pill prescribed for his wife."We do that in our house," Hunter said. "If I've got a head cold, Imight grab one of her pills." SI PLAYERS is sending him a year's supply ofMidol.
Revisionist of the Week
LOOKS LIKE someone's seen Eternal Sunshine of theSpotless Mind too many times. Stanford swim coach Skip Kenney erased therecords of five former athletes he didn't get along with from the team's mediaguide. Kenney has been suspended with pay, and had his laptop's DELETE keydisabled.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN UELAND
JOHN BIEVER (HUNTER)
DAVID GONZALES/STANFORD ATHLETICS (KENNEY)