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When He Is Bad... (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday October 24, 2007 11:43AM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 11:52AM
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After winning a Cup with Colorado in 1996, Simon (17) was a scorer for the Capitals in the late '90s.
After winning a Cup with Colorado in 1996, Simon (17) was a scorer for the Capitals in the late '90s.
David E. Klutho/SI

"The other guys who know [Hollweg] say he's an excellent guy," Simon said in his deliberate, leathery baritone. "Great teammate. Lots of fun to be around. He's an agitator on the ice. Draws penalties. Plays in your face. He just does his job."

The irony is that many of the same things are said of Simon. Indeed, grades of Simon's hockey character run the gamut from A to, well, A+. Says Buffalo goalie Jocelyn Thibault, who played with Simon in Quebec, Colorado and Chicago, "Unbelievable guy [who's] always been recognized as a straight shooter." Says Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who knows Simon from Calgary, "He loves you, he kicks ass for you. Awesome. Best teammate I played with." Says Toronto winger Jason Blake, who played on a line with Simon last season in New York, "Good teammate because he cared so much."

Thus the case of one of the NHL's most physical players raises some metaphysical questions: If Simon is so good, why does he do so many bad things? And if he does so many bad things, can he possibly be good?

"When I play, I'm different than I am in everyday life," says Simon, 35. "And I have to be. Sixteen years [in the NHL] and I've never been in any trouble away from hockey. Never an altercation. Nothing."

Fine. But the video evidence from last March 8 is as disturbing as it is incontrovertible. Maybe Simon's behavior wasn't as heinous as Marty McSorley's stalking of Donald Brashear in 2000 or Todd Bertuzzi's assault on Steve Moore in 2004, but it was so bad that teammates actually doubted what they had witnessed. With six minutes left in a 1-1 game against the Rangers -- Simon had the Islander goal -- the "gentle giant" (as defenseman Brendan Witt, who roomed with Simon for six years in Washington, calls him) took his 60-inch stick and tried to perform an Easton Synergy lobotomy on Hollweg. After his disciplinary hearing with NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, Simon issued a nine-paragraph apology. In it, he let it drop that when he swung his stick he was still dazed from being checked into the boards from behind by Hollweg. (According to a source with knowledge of the drafting of the apology, Islanders owner Charles Wang wanted to mention Simon's possible concussion as a way of "getting out in front" of the story.) Simon said he had stayed in bed for about a week with headaches. He also said his eyes were overly sensitive to light, a symptom consistent with a Grade 2 concussion, according to American Academy of Neurology guidelines. But Simon's apparent haze sounded like a hockey variation of the Twinkie Defense; instead of sugar, a concussion had made him behave aberrantly. Judging by his record, however, the concussion just made him more like himself.

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