ONE OF THE NHL's most notorious thugs, Chris Simon, reportedly has signed with Vityaz Chekhov, a Russian team.

Good riddance.

While some hockey fans are amused by Simon's antics, it's guys like that who have helped keep the NHL from being treated seriously by nonhockey fans. A good, clean fight (oxymoron alert)

between two hard-nosed lads is accepted as part of the hockey culture. Simon's stunts are not.

Simon's rap sheet with the NHL is long and inglorious. While many NHL teams still

employ such hooligans, their

value seems to be fading. Teams still want muscle and spunk, they just want some discernible brain function, too.

It's not too much to ask - no matter how

chippy a game can be, no matter how emotional players can get.

Points are too valuable, turnarounds too possible to risk losing games because goons can't

control their temper. Two years ago, the Penguins were last in the Eastern Conference with 58 points, one point away from being the worst in the entire league. Last year, it was the Flyers.

Last year, when Simon was on the Islanders, there was a 25-game suspension for a two-handed stick attack on the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg.

In December, Simon was suspended for 30 games for stomping on the leg of the Penguins' Jarkko Ruutu.

Simon, a Flyers' second-round pick in 1990,

never played here. He played 15 years in the

NHL and was suspended eight times. In 782

NHL games, he has 144 goals, 161 assists and

1,824 penalty minutes.

How he will fit into the Russian system escapes us. We look around and see the Russians as the best-skilled players in the league. Heads up,

comrades, a bowling ball is headed your way.

A long time to ponder this

If it's another 25 years between titles, that will take us until 2033. We all better hope for some good luck around here. *

- Chuck Bausman