By Larry Brooks
New York Post
April 8, 2012
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) and Sidney Crosby (87) sit on the bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh Saturday, April 7, 2012. The Penguins won 4-2. (AP)
As If there had been any previous doubt, this week’s events demonstrated once and for all the Penguins are the NHL’s version of Made Men, not only untouchable but protected by the authorities against insult.
The league responded to John Tortorella’s withering verbal attack on the Pittsburgh organization, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as if the Rangers coach had bellied up to the bar and told Mario Lemieux to go home and get his shine box.
The NHL whacked Tortorella in the pocketbook is what they did, because if there’s one thing the league can’t allow, it’s calling attention to the Most Favored Nation status granted the Penguins and their owner.
The irony is that’s exactly what the league accomplished by overreacting to Tortorella’s colorful verbiage with its $20,000 fine approximately 14 months after the NHL had allowed Lemieux to skate away free of charge after the owner issued a statement on his team’s website in which he condemned the league for its response to brawls between the Islanders and the Penguins at the Coliseum.
Lemieux threatened to walk away from the NHL the way he once threatened to take his team to Kansas City. He said the league had failed. The league said it would take no action against the owner.
The “arrogance” of the Pittsburgh ownership to which Tortorella referred is a sense of entitlement bestowed upon it by a league that appears more invested in protecting the Penguins than opponents who might be injured as a result of reckless plays that somehow always are deemed accidental or not worthy of NHL sanction.
On its own, the Brooks Orpik knee-on-knee hit delivered to Derek Stepan in the final minutes of Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh probably was not worthy of a suspension.
The fact is, however, it was not a stand-alone incident. Orpik initiated a similar, perhaps even more malicious, knee-on-knee hit against Brad Richards in the neutral zone midway through the first period of a game at the Garden on Nov. 29, a play in which neither a penalty was called nor supplemental discipline issued.
Malkin is notorious for his slew-footing escapades on which he never is cited, all the way back to the 2008 playoffs against the Rangers. Matt Cooke got away with a leg sweep on Richards in the second period of a game at the Garden on Jan. 19. Aaron Asham injured the Bruins’ Johnny Boychuk leg-on-leg April 3, two days after another one of those “accidental” collisions against Philadelphia that just happen to follow the Penguins from city to city.
Pierre McGuire, meanwhile, saw nothing.
Better for the NBC’s between-the-glass future employment prospects in either the broadcast industry or in an NHL front office to remain silent rather than cast a critical glance at the Penguins, much less record anything other than an audio love letter their way.
It always has been inexplicable NBC would have wanted Mike Milbury, someone whose idea of analysis is invariably to dive straight to the bottom and engage in character assassination and attack on an individual’s manhood, as its representative.
But the network never one time flinched until this week, when Milbury had the audacity to defame Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins the way he has built a TV career defaming Jaromir Jagr, Alex Ovechkin, Daniel and Henrik Sedin ... uh, maybe there’s a pattern?
The network, and by extension, the league, was fine with years of ridicule and personal attack over its own airwaves, but when Milbury dared to similarly bottom-feed on the Penguins and Crosby in a radio interview, no less, whoa boy, enough was enough.
An apology was coerced and Milbury conveniently will not be among the participants in tomorrow’s joint network and league conference call (“Uh, Mike, did you mean it when you called Crosby a ‘punk’ before you recanted?”) designed to publicize the coverage of the playoffs.
The 11th Commandment: “Thy shy not speak ill of the Favorite Son.”
Everyone is on notice from the league. The problem for the league though, is everyone has noticed the double standard as applied to the Penguins by a league that was silent when Lemieux, coolly detached two days after an event, attacked the operation but reached into Tortorella’s pocket for $20,000 when the coach, white hot 20 minutes after an incident, did the same.
As far as the smell test goes, the league has passed.
It smells, all right.