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Simon seeks help, Oilers roil NHL, Europe gets tough

Posted: Monday December 17, 2007 5:40PM; Updated: Tuesday December 18, 2007 12:32AM
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Chris Simon is respected by teammates, but has an alarming habit of using his stick or skates on opponents in the heat of battle.
Chris Simon is respected by teammates, but has an alarming habit of using his stick or skates on opponents in the heat of battle.
Lou Capozzola/SI
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Chris Simon of the Islanders is taking a leave of absence from the team after stomping on the skate of the Penguins' Jarko Ruuttu last Saturday night, a move that one hockey executive called "an interesting tactic."

"This way," the executive said, "he suspends himself before Colin Campbell can."

With a hearing likely to be held on Tuesday, Campbell, the NHL's vice-president in charge of discipline, is going to be revisiting a player he has come to know well. Campbell dinged Simon with his seventh NHL suspension last March -- 25 games for a cross-check to the face of the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg -- a reprise of a stunt Simon once pulled in junior hockey. (Simon was allowed to play in exhibition games last September, but called attention to himself by tussling with Hollweg, and the incident will likely force the NHL to change its policy about allowing suspended players to play in the preseason.)

Surely an eighth suspension is coming in the wake of that match penalty against Pittsburgh, which occurred 26 games after Simon's return from the Hollweg suspension. The question is: how long. Ten games? The season?

"I don't want to say anything before a hearing," Campbell told On the Fly Monday afternoon. "Certainly, the player deserves time in front of the league. But this is a serious matter, especially because he's a recidivist. In fact, a multiple repeat offender. There is a lot of concern from the league. This is coming on the heels of the stick-swinging [incident with Hollweg]. Luckily' neither one resulted in major injuries, but these are not minor infractions."

In a statement, Simon said he needed "time and assistance" away from the team. He also apologized, as he did after the Hollweg incident. Like Pope Prays for Peace, Simon Apologizes is now what the newspaper business calls a standing headline.

Look, Simon might be the wonderful teammate and terrific enforcer that teammates past and present universally aver. But for a guy who is so adept with his fists, he has a predilection for using his stick and skates when he snaps, precisely the kind of things that Canadian-born hockey players are taught never to do. Simon needs compassion and counseling. He also needs a long time away from the game, self-imposed or league-imposed.

Roiling Oil

For a franchise that is geographically and sometimes philosophically out of the mainstream, the Oilers certainly have a knack for roiling the NHL.

You would think that a small-market team without a single marquee player, a team that figures to be life and death to even make the playoffs in the combative Northwest Division, would hardly be of such consequence to the direction of the league, but Edmonton's impact is being felt on the ice and especially in the wallet.

General manager Kevin Lowe has done more to alter the NHL landscape than any team executive since the 2004-05 lockout. To refresh your memory, Lowe went on a serious fishing expedition in the Group II pool last summer. The Flyers trolled in the shallow waters of restricted free agency the year before in a curious bid for Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, but Lowe got out the heavy test line, first signingThomas Vanek of the Sabres to a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet. (Stung by the losses of free agent centers Chris Drury and Daniel Brière, Buffalo had little choice but to match and outrageously overpay to keep their winger.) Then Lowe signed Anaheim power winger/whipping boy Dustin Penner to a four-year, $21.5 offer sheet, which didn't impress Ducks GM Brian Burke, who touched off the best feud west of Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell.

Now fast-forward to last week.

With NHL teams now terrified of losing Group IIs because of Lowe's bold and perhaps foolish gambits - and with agents preying on those fears - the Flyers moved beyond the now accepted six-year contract extensions for players in their 20s (the Kings' Dustin Brown, the Predators' David Legwand and the Panthers' Stephen Weiss are among those who have re-upped for six years) by giving 22-year-old center Mike Richards a 12-year extension worth about $69 million.

A little more than a year ago, Richards (10 goals in 59 games in 2006-07) and Jeff Carter seemed like late bloomers, if not mild disappointments. Now, Richards, who has 15 goals in 31 games this season and could prove to be an effective long-term antidote to Sidney Crosby in Philadelphia's intra-divisional meetings with Pittsburgh, is the second coming of Bob Clarke, a Flyer forever.

(When Islanders owner Charles Wang made Rick DiPietro goalie-for-life the previous summer -- 15 years, $67.5 million -- it was widely viewed as a one-off blunder by an owner who also had approved a 10-year deal for Alexei Yashin. Now, in comparison at least, DiPietro appears underpaid.)

If Lowe had not crashed through a seemingly tacit agreement not to target Group IIs, then NHL teams, without any clear understanding of where the salary cap might be headed, wouldn't be rushing off to commit so many years and dollars.

That's the Oilers' impact off the ice. On the ice, there is the matter of the shootout.

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