|CHRIS SIMON Benched until Feb. 21|
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 rarely-before-seen heights of discipline.
The New York Islanders forward was hit with a 30-game suspension yesterday, eclipsing the 25 he received in March with a ban that stretched into this season.
Simon, on a leave of absence from the team following the Saturday night dust-up 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."
Simon, 35, left the Islanders Monday to receive counseling, then met with league disciplinarian Colin Campbell Tuesday in Toronto. 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."
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 said.
The first game of the ban was last night when the Islanders faced the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's excessive," coach Ted 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 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 game's final 54 seconds.
"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."
"It's not something that happened, like we always say a hockey play gone bad," Campbell added. "This was something totally away from the play and [had] nothing to do with the game of hockey."
Simon was to be paid during his time away, but following his latest suspension, he 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.
In 2004, Simon was given a two-game suspension for cross-checking Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko, now a teammate, and then jumping on him and punching him.
"When you play against somebody, you have an image in your mind what kind of person that is," said Fedotenko. "When I've experienced him as a teammate, I think he was a great person and really calm. A nice, nice, nice guy."