Friday December 21st, 2007

Lots of reader mail on the Chris Simon incident, and despite a record-setting suspension, not many seem satisfied with the call by chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell.

When is the NHL going to wise up and make an example out of a clown like Chris Simon? Sure, 30 games makes for a good sound bite, but honestly, if he didn't learn from the 25 games he got last year, what are they going to do the next time he snaps? 50 games? 100? They should have just thrown him out and washed their hands of him for good. -- Alex Brule, Quebec

I can't for the life of me understand the NHL's concept of justice. Chris Simon steps on Jarkko Ruutu's ankle, does no damage, and gets 30 games. Randy Jones ends Patrice Bergeron's season with a hit from behind and gets a slap on the wrist. Where's the consistency? Where's the justice? -- Karen Elgar, Ontario

The phrase "make an example of him" popped up in a lot of your emails, so let's address that. The NHL can't make an example of a guy. They simply have to hand out a punishment that's appropriate. Anything excessive -- a lifetime ban, for example -- would be subject to appeal, and probably wouldn't stand up to the test. And sure, Campbell could have made it 40 games or the rest of the season, but there's no doubt that, right or wrong, the lack of injury from the incident played into the decision.

Look, 30 games is a serious stretch, especially at this point in Simon's career. Odds are that this is his final kick at the can, so to speak. This suspension gives him one last chance to redeem himself and end his career on a positive note. Personally, I would have added the stipulation that Simon had to apply for reinstatement at the end of the suspension so the league could take into account the effectiveness of the treatment he's received. But all things considered, I think Campbell made the right call.

Of course, most people don't, and a lot of the complaints have to do with comparing this sentence to others handed out this season. You can't do that in hockey any more than you can in the real world. Look at the court systems in Canada and the U.S. There's no equanimity in sentencing, and that's because no two situations are alike.

I get that people are more upset about the Jones/Bergeron incident, but the two have nothing to do with each other. In simplest terms, the Jones infraction, though obviously illegal, was within the scope of how the game is played. The Simon infraction had nothing to do with hockey. It was a vicious, malevolent act, and was treated as such.

By the way, Bergeron has started some light exercise. That's a long way from skating, let alone getting back into Boston's lineup, but it's a positive development.

While I agree with you that the NHL should take a European Super League seriously, I have a hard time envisioning cities like Helsinki severing their club ties (Jokerit and HIFK) to form a league like this. Having been there recently, there are legions of fans for these club teams that would not go for this idea. It would be like asking Cubs and White Sox fans to scrap their allegiances and root for some new team in a new league. -- Bryan Long, Boston, MA

You're right, Bryan. With two established clubs, Helsinki seems like a tough sell . . . but you can't completely rule it out. The reason competing leagues have always failed here is because the fans know they're already seeing the best in the world and aren't willing to pay for an inferior product. That's not the case in Finland, where even the most devoted fan knows there are better options than the SM-Liiga. If this Super League offers a better brand of hockey, and manages to convince some local heroes to defect for a Helsinki-based squad, well, you never know.

I still think major centers like London and Berlin that have clubs, but not the same sort of history, might be more tenable. With the kind of financing this project is likely to have, converting fans is an issue the Super League will deal with down the line.

I keep hearing talk of the Sharks wanting to trade Patrick Marleau to Montreal. What would it take to make that happen? We desperately need a legitimate first line center. -- Matt Greenway, Montreal

You're right that the Habs need a No. 1 to allow Saku Koivu to slip comfortably onto the second line...but I wouldn't start sizing up Marleau for a bleu, blanc et rouge sweater just yet.

Honestly, why would the Sharks let him go? Sure, he's been in a deep funk pretty much since the start of the playoffs last season, and that's certainly encouraged other GMs to make a few calls to see if there's a chance to exploit it. Still, his stumbles aren't the result of the cruelty of age or a major injury. This slump is something he can and will work out of...and he'll do it in San Jose.

For a team to succeed in the playoffs, they need to have two lines going. It was the failure of Marleau's group that 86'ed the Sharks last season. It's obvious he's having trouble clicking with his current wingers. If GM Doug Wilson is inclined to make a deal -- and he may be soon given how inconsistent the club has been -- he's much more likely to pursue a complementary piece than to move a cornerstone of the puzzle, like his captain.

Of course, you can never say never. If a team like Montreal or Atlanta, which also needs a top-flight center, was willing to overpay, hey, Wilson has to keep his options open.

Glad to see the media finally starting to acknowledge the greatness of Brian Burke. The man is an unmitigated genius. The way he dealt with the Niedermayer situation without diminishing the blueline gives me the confidence that a repeat is a real possibility. Speaking of the blueline, after three games I'm ready to pronounce it the best ever. Yes, even better than Montreal's Big Three. Your thoughts? -- Glenn, Torrance, CA

I don't think anyone's overlooked the job Burke has done in completely remaking the Ducks since he took the reins back in June 2005, but his willingness to paint with bold strokes, especially over the past few weeks, has really set him apart from the pack. But let's wait and see if he can get the goal scorer he needs by the deadline before we label his genius unmitigated.

As for the Ducks' blueline, it's clearly the class of the league and appears to have the depth that can carry the team in the postseason. But better than those old Montreal backliners? I don't think so. They may have been called the Big Three to recognize the dominance of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, but that nickname pays short shrift to very capable guys like Bill Nyrop, Rick Chartraw and Brian Engblom, who filled out those units. It might be another case of my Good Ol' Days Syndrome flaring up, but give me the Habs.

Your mention of the Canadian World Junior team got my brother and I talking about 2010. The Canadians could field the most talented group of centers of any team in history, the 1987 Canada Cup team included. Figure that you can carry four or five of the following: Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews, Daniel Briere, Nathan Horton, Ryan Getzlaf and either Staal brother. What's your opinion? -- Michael Sung, Los Angeles, CA

Yeah, that is a pretty stout group, but better than '87? On paper at least, that team's top four down the middle was Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Dale Hawerchuk. Guys ended up playing out of position, of course, and that may happen with 2010 team as well, but brothers, it's pretty tough to top that group.

Looking at the names of the current crop, you can see the challenge that Hockey Canada is going to face when putting a lineup together in late 2009. Projecting who'll be on the team now is like trying to guess how many grandkids Lynne Spears has by this time next year. It's a pretty fluid situation and anything could happen between now and then. But here's my crack at it, but just keep in mind that I'm thinking we'll see a few natural centers moved to the wings, just like they did back in '87:

Forwards (13): Crosby, Lecavalier, Getzlaf, Toews, Mike Fisher, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Brad Richards, Mike Richards, Joe Thornton.

Defense (7): Francois Beachemin, Jay Bouwmeester, Brian Campbell, Dion Phaneuf, Chris Pronger, Wade Redden, Shea Weber

Goalies (3) J-S Giguere, Roberto Luongo, Carey Price

Coach: Brent Sutter

What do you think of the Kyle Okposo signing by the Islanders? The team really needs someone who can put the puck in the net. Can he be that guy? -- Tracy Amadore, New York

Someday, maybe, but I wouldn't count on much in the way of instant gratification here. And to clarify, Okposo has only announced that he's left the University of Minnesota. I don't believe he actually has a deal signed with the Isles yet, although that shouldn't be much of a problem given the limitations of the rookie salary cap. He's staying with the American team for the World Juniors, which start next Wednesday in the Czech Republic. After the tournament, he'll sit down with the Islanders and figure out the next step.

It makes sense to give him a shot on the Island first just to see if he can improve the caliber of their popgun offense, but don't be surprised to see the 19-year-old spend some time in the AHL. He's not making this move at a high point in his career.

Okposo finished his abbreviated collegiate run with six goals in nine games, but he really hasn't dominated the way many thought he would. In fact, he was brutal over the first month or so. Part of that may be because he was moved to center from wing this season after several key players graduated or, in the case of Mike Carmen, were academically ineligible to play. His unhappiness with that situation may be the main reason he made the surprise decision to leave school in the middle of the season.

The Islanders expect Okposo to be a top-six forward down the road. Whatever he brings to the team now is a bonus.

If I handed out a Letter of the Week prize -- and I might have to start now -- it wouldn't be too tough to pick the winner this time around.

Reader ZSL from Texas wrote that she's in the middle of a divorce suit and the process of dividing up communal property. One of the items of contention? A two-foot-tall, $250 replica of the Stanley Cup.

"There it is folks: the words Stanley Cup written between cordless drill and 56-inch plasma TV. Now, that you don't see every day," she wrote.

I'd let him keep the drill and the Cup and hold on to the TV. But that might just be because I'm tired of watching Andy Griffith and Leave It To Beaver on a 13-inch black-and-white set. Bet those shows look sweet in HD.

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