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Chris Simon Bashes NHL In The Face.

By Chris Gift

[This article originally appeared in the Mar. 10 edition of St. Louis Game Time.]

Some people have said that hockey is back. That what was created in the aftermath of the lockout has faded away and the league is in the best shape it has been in for years right now.Â

The NHL has responded to the fans’ wants and needs and fulfilled them through rules changes, making the players more accessible and lowering ticket prices.Â

While the Super Bowl has become more of a holiday than Christmas, some say there isn’t a championship that is more glorious, or is more celebrated than the winning the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Being the “fourth major sport” isn’t going to be hockey’s thing much longer. Look out, basketball; hockey is making a charge for the position of George, after being Ringo for so many years - except NASCAR and golf are more popular (that is, when Tiger Woods plays) than both of them.Â

But as tongue in cheek as that all may be, hockey is headed in the right direction. Granted, it will be televised on Versus, or up against the Masters so nobody will watch. But to use a stock market term, hockey is entering a Bull Market. The “travashamockery” that was the lockout and the 2005-2006 season are gone and not just because of the fortunes of the Blues.Â

Then Chris Simon, who belongs on one of those GEICO caveman commercials more than he belongs in the league, tried to combine a hockey stick and the guillotine Thursday night, when he slashed the Rangers’ Ryan Hollweg in the face.Â

And he made hockey a national story, once again, for the wrong reasons. Chris Simon, he of the three game suspension for an “ethnic slur” towards then-Oiler Mike Grier during 1997, and he of the 1,702 penalty minutes in 692 games reminded that the old expression of “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out,” may not be that far removed.Â

Hollweg isn’t to be confused with a Lady Byng Trophy candidate. He is known for his tough play and non-stop energy and work ethic. Think Tyson Nash without the annoying hair, and with talent. Think Mike Danton without the murder for hire charges and the weird agent. Think Sean Avery without Jack Bauer’s daughter from the first season of 24. Â

Think Ryan Johnson without his former girlfriend, ESPN’s Erin Andrews. That really doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but
Brad Lee and I have been trying to figure out how he screwed that up and how to work it into a column too.

The precedent for the two previous idiots to attack another player on the ice (Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley) was to suspend them for the remainder of the year, plus the next calendar year.Â

Granted, McSorley’s was at the end of his career, and Bertuzzi’s was right before the lockout, but neither of them were heard from for a long time after their attacks. Â

Simon is 35, obviously he isn’t the next Islander in line for a 15 year contract…well you never know. But he’s in the downhill part of his career, and this just the thing that (why I even bring his name up, I don’t know) Gary Bettman needs to, borrowing a line from Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, “announce his presence with authority.”Â

Bettman needs to announce that because of Simon’s past - including a contract holdout that instigated his trade from Colorado to
(while that shouldn’t be a mark against him, insane holdouts like that were among the reasons salaries were sky rocketing, which eventually led to the lockout) - he will be suspended from the league for five years.

Any act such as Bertuzzi’s attempt at making Steve Moore a human Zamboni, McSorley’s hook to Donald Brashear’s temple, or Simon’s
to the incisors will result in an automatic suspension without pay for the rest of the current season and a hearing for reinstatement will be held before training camp of the next season. The player’s team will also have the right to terminate the player’s contract at the hearing.

Five years for a player with a past history of violence and being a regular in the league doghouse is appropriate. Five years isn’t a lifetime ban, but it will do more than enough to derail the player’s career to get the message across. To leave the rink for a second, the NCAA has a rule called the “repeat violator” rule (also known as the “Death Penalty” - it was given to SMU for the 1987 football season). Repeat violators don’t get to play the following year, and until they prove to the governing board (in this case the NCAA) that errors have been corrected.Â

I don’t think any true hockey fan has a problem when two willing combatants drop the mitts and fight. It adds to the excitement of game, it helps the game police itself, and most importantly, it takes up a page in Game Time. I think every hockey fan has no tolerance for what Chris Simon did on Thursday night. If Simon grabs Hollweg and beats him up rag doll style, while not totally reasonable, it is better than what he chose to do with his stick.Â

Now, it is time for a commissioner whose crowning achievement so far has been canceling half of one season, and all of another season to finally do something positive for a game that he looks at as a job and all of the players and fans look at as a passion.Â