Simon to receive counseling; team says drugs, alcohol not involved
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- To his coach and teammates, Chris Simon isn't the stick-swinging, skate-stomping fiend outsiders view him to be.
To the NHL, he is an out of control enforcer who keeps pushing the league to never before seen heights of discipline.
The New York Islanders forward was hit with a 30-game suspension Wednesday, breaking the mark of 25 he set in March with a ban that stretched into this season.
Simon, on a leave of absence from the team following the Saturday night dustup with Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu, will miss more than a third of the season and can't return until Feb. 21 against Tampa Bay.
"Chris is a good, solid guy," teammate Bryan Berard said. "He does have that switch where he can snap, and I think that's why he's been in the league for so long. It's a tough sport."
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The 35-year-old player left the Islanders on Monday to receive counseling, then met with league disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Tuesday. Campbell had said Simon would receive drug and alcohol treatment, but the NHL later clarified that Simon's treatment simply will take place under the auspices of the league and union's substance abuse and behavioral program.
Counseling details are kept confidential. Islanders spokesman Chris Botta confirmed drugs and alcohol are "not the issue."
"The doctors who oversee the substance abuse aspect of the joint NHL/NHLPA program also oversee the aspect of behavioral health," league spokesman Frank Brown said. "It would be improper to draw any inference as to whatever treatment or counseling they may be providing."
Still, the miscommunication upset Islanders coach Ted Nolan, who coached Simon in junior hockey when Simon dealt with problems related to alcohol.
"It really bothered me, the implication, even if it was just a careless omission," Nolan said. "These types of things are very damaging for someone in [Campbell's] position to say when he has no factual information. If we said something like that, we'd be suspended. But there are no repercussions.
"Chris has a history of that type of thing and has worked extremely hard to overcome that. That's his personal life, and a statement like that could affect his reputation, and affect the rest of his life. We talk about sensitive issues, but maybe some other people need sensitivity training."
When reached by The Associated Press, Campbell said he had "no comment whatsoever about this aspect of this story."
Botta said Campbell spoke to Islanders general manager Garth Snow before the game to, "clear the air."
Earlier in the day, Campbell said the seven prior suspensions in Simon's 15-season NHL career have not been a deterrent.
"I am hoping both the 30 games ... and the actual help he's going to get and counseling he's going to get ... will help Chris and deal with the problem he has," Campbell added.
The first game of the ban was Wednesday night when the Islanders faced the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's excessive," Nolan said. "The league suspended him ... now we have to support Chris while he goes through this process."
With 5:54 left in New York's 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, Simon drew a match penalty when he pulled out Ruutu's leg with his, sending the forward to his knees between the benches. Simon then stomped on the skate of Ruutu, who wasn't seriously injured.
"It's a lot of games, for sure," Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman said. "On the other hand, those kinds of plays should be disciplined and disciplined severely."
Simon was ejected and the Islanders were a man short for all but the final 54 seconds of the defeat.
"When I hear 30 games, I think that's a lot," Berard said. "I've seen worse things on the ice that have gotten a lot less games, especially now with the head injuries, guys hitting from behind and things like that, and guys getting two games. I'm sure it's a tough one to accept but Chris is a repeat offender."
On March 11, Simon was suspended 25 games -- 15 regular-season games, a five-game playoff series loss to Buffalo, and five games to open this season -- for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
"We now had a greater responsibility in protecting players down the road on the ice that Chris was playing with," Campbell said. "Coaches and managers have said about Chris that he is a great guy -- off the ice. Now we're concerned about what's next."
Although the leave of absence was announced before Campbell's decision, the NHL said Simon was instantly on indefinite suspension once the match penalty was assessed.
"It's not something that happened, like we always say a hockey play gone bad," Campbell said. "This was something totally away from the play and nothing to do with the game of hockey."
Simon met with Islanders owner Charles Wang, Snow and Nolan during practice Monday and they agreed he should seek help.
He was to be paid during his time away, but now with the suspension, Simon will forfeit $292,683, the league said. As a repeat offender, his salary is docked based on games missed as opposed to days in the season.
Simon was suspended five other times for violent on-ice acts and received a three-game ban in 1997 after directing a racial slur toward player Mike Grier, who is black.
During the 2000 playoffs, Simon, then with Washington, sat out a game after he cross-checked Penguins defenseman Peter Popovic across the throat.
In April 2001, Simon drew a two-game ban for elbowing Anders Eriksson of Florida. He was given a pair of two-game suspensions in 2004 -- for cross-checking Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko and then jumping on him and punching him, and for kneeing Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov.
Simon also missed five preseason games in 1994 while with Quebec after he swung his stick at Ottawa's Dennis Vial, but missed. The indefinite suspension following that match penalty was interrupted by the NHL lockout, and Simon was allowed to return when play resumed in January 1995.
"When you play against somebody you have an image in your mind what kind of person that is," said Fedotenko, now with the Islanders. "When I've experienced him as a teammate, I think he was a great person and really calm.
"A nice, nice, nice guy."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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