Pittsburgh Penguins: Is Steve Downie Worth The Trouble?


Jan 2, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and right wing Steve Downie (23) react after a goal by Downie against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was encouraging to see the NHL department of player safety get it right with regards to Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who was suspended two games for his elbow to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Steve Downie on Tuesday night.

Although Downie didn’t return to Tuesday’s game, he was a full participant in practice on Thursday and projects to play Friday night on Long Island. Typically, the NHL has punished players corresponding to the injuries they cause as much as the nature of their acts, so it was refreshing to see Suter getting banished for a couple games despite Downie apparently being OK.

Also, even though Suter has no history of being a dirty player, the league ruled that his act was so egregious that he deserved to sit out – despite never having dealt with NHL justice before in his career.

However, part of the aftermath in Penguins fan circles regards the team’s lack of “response” to Suter’s elbow. The reasoning goes: since the excitable Downie is always looking out for his teammates, don’t they owe him one?

More from Pittsburgh Penguins

I gave the Pens the benefit of the doubt in this situation, as none of them saw the play live. The coaching staff looked at a replay between periods, and Sidney Crosby questioned Suter about it later in the game, but it’s difficult to get upset about something you didn’t see.

Furthermore, could it be that most of the Penguins aren’t as smitten with Downie as some of their fans seem to be? As explained by Dejan Kovacevic in his weekly Friday Insider feature, the feeling inside Consol Energy Center is that Downie’s agitating presence on the team has caused league referees to be more hesitant in whistling penalties against the Pens’ opponents.

Per Kovacevic:

"I won’t name names here, but suffice it to say that this perception is pretty much universally held. And it goes like this: The refs bitterly resent having to track Downie’s every move on the ice, including behind the play, as well as the sillier antics such as that bizarre unsportsmanlike minor a couple of weeks ago for flat-out refusing to leave the inside of the faceoff circle. It drives them batty. And because of that, they have a tough time listening to any lip from the Penguins’ players or bench. Sometimes — and this is substantiated by multiple sources — the refs won’t even come to the bench when the coaches ask, a fairly common courtesy."

If the above sentiment is true, I could understand why some of the Penguins wouldn’t exactly be overeager to come to Downie’s defense.

To be clear, I think Downie has been a good fit this season. Not only does he make opponents look over their shoulders when he’s on the ice, he has shown an ability to hang with some of the more skilled players on the roster when skating alongside them.

However, if he is making life more difficult for the Penguins in terms of earning power plays and generally focusing on the game at hand, maybe he’s just not worth all the trouble.

Assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who has a previous relationship with Downie from their days in Tampa Bay, has been Downie’s unofficial probation officer this season.

It might be time for Tocchet to have another chat with his pupil, as Downie’s antics are apparently just as distracting for the Pens as the opposition.

More from City of Champions