The "good kid" (as he's called by Brian Kilrea, his Hall of Fame junior coach in Ottawa) is a hockey recidivist, a man who has been suspended more often than disbelief. And of his seven NHL suspensions, four have been for using his stick. (In 1997 he also received three games for directing a racial slur at Mike Grier, who now plays for San Jose.) In the Ontario junior hockey league Simon was a disciplinary nightmare. Although the OHL was unable to provide records, The Sault Star (of Sault Sainte Marie, Ont.) reported that in 1991--92 he was suspended eight times for a total of 34 games—32 by the league and two by the team. The previous season, when the Soo Greyhounds acquired Simon from the Ottawa 67s, he was serving a 12-game suspension for having slashed Niagara Falls Thunder defenseman David Babcock in the face, breaking seven teeth and opening a gash that required 21 stitches.
Hollweg, who took a few stitches that night and returned to the Rangers lineup two days later, was lucky in comparison. "The incident was very surreal," said Witt, Simon's close friend. "When I saw Bertuzzi [injure Moore], it was [on tape], not in real time like this. I'm on the bench, and I'm like, Did I just see that? That was a heat-of-the-moment thing. [Simon] got a hard hit and somewhat snapped."
The contrite Simon thought he might receive a 10- or 15-game suspension, but these days the NHL has limited tolerance for miscreants. Campbell levied 25 games on Simon, just as he would on Boulerice. He also banned Flyers rookie Steve Downie for 20 games after Downie launched himself into Ottawa's Dean McAmmond this preseason, driving the unsuspecting veteran into the boards with an elbow and leaving him concussed.
The chorus of disgust directed at Downie was loud and nearly unanimous; Blake even suggested that the 20-year-old be barred from the league. But there was no tough talk when Simon went off last March. In the moral relativism of the NHL, Simon apparently treads with the angels.
"He made a bad decision, suffered the consequences, and that's it," says Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters, who neither knows nor has fought Simon. "But look what he's done in his career. He won a Stanley Cup in Colorado. He's scored goals, 29 one year. He's played with good players"—Simon's sweet hands have made him a suitable winger for stars such as Joe Sakic, Peter Bondra and Alexei Yashin—"and he's protected many players. Now guys will protect him publicly because that's what he's done for them all these years. It's part of the brotherhood. Part of the big circle. The circle of the game."
FOR THE North American native people—Simon is the son of an Ojibwa father and an Anglo-Canadian mother—life is a circle: they pay homage to the round Earth, the rotation of the seasons, the circular drum that beats at powwows.
A life about to swirl down the drain ... well, that's circular too. Simon was headed in that direction more than 15 years ago, when alcohol was playing clutch-and-grab with his soul. "Liquor," Simon said, "was real bad for me." If he had not doubled back from Ottawa to the junior team nearest his home, the Soo Greyhounds, Simon figures he might be in jail now. Or worse.
In the Soo his coach was Nolan, an Ojibwa who, in the great mandala that is Simon's life, is now his staunchest ally on Long Island. After a 1991 New Year's Eve incident at a hotel, in which Simon was arrested for vandalism (charges were later dropped), the player started on the road back to sobriety. Nolan walked in lockstep with him. The coach established a curfew. Every night at nine, Simon was obliged to call from his billet. Every night at nine, Nolan would answer. "It took me a while to realize what he was doing," Simon says. "I mean, he didn't have to be home every night just because I was calling."
In 1997 Nolan won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year with Buffalo, but there are no trophies for what he considers his best work. On the Greyhounds "there were people who said we should cut our losses [with] Chris," said Nolan, who helped reintroduce Simon to his native heritage. "There are people in hockey who we want to get the most out of but we don't want to give the most back to.... Being involved in Chris's career and having an impact is probably my biggest accomplishment. Trophies will come, trophies will go. Turning a kid's life around is way more important. The transformation Chris made to get where he is is truly amazing. He's the biggest, softest teddy bear on the ice you'll ever meet. He's a very sensitive guy."
Maybe too sensitive.