By Brian Metzer
(If the context seems a bit out of whack in this story, it is because it was written hours ago as I waited for the ruling to go public. Stay tuned for thoughts on the actual number of games etc. – Metz)
Another bonehead play. Another suspension for Matt Cooke.
The Penguins will be without their feisty winger for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, though it might hurt on the ice, it is something that needed to happen. Cooke, who plays on the edge most of the time, has long walked the fine line between NHL right and wrong and what he did yesterday was just wrong.
Sure you can compare it to other similar hits and circumstances, but unfortunately it isn’t apples to apples when you do so. The league is forced to look at the fact that they are dealing with a player who had been suspended for multiple games four times before (three of which involved hits to the head or from behind). Cooke also set off a firestorm of debate regarding head shots in the league after delivering a blow to the head of the Bruins’ Marc Savard last season.
Though the hit was legal under the league’s rules at the time, it dovetails with the rest of Cooke’s resume. That resume is the reason that the league had to come down on the Penguins’ forward.
Losing Cooke will certainly hurt a Penguins team that is in the hunt for home ice advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs, as Cooke is a superb penalty killer who also has the ability to score the timely goal. But according to Penguins’ beat reporter Rob Rossi, team sources were hopeful that the league would come down hard on Cooke this time around.
His past actions had already unleashed a firestorm on the Penguins’ organization and were the main ammunition used to attack Mario Lemieux and Ray Shero when the former made comments speaking out about violence in the game. Cooke’s (pardon the expression) greatest hits were paraded out again and again by folks who have been calling Lemieux a hypocrite for employing such a player while talking of eliminating head shots.
Lemieux answered the criticism to some extent last week when he penned a letter to the league outlining an idea for discipline in the league. The idea would call for monetary penalties for the teams as well as the players in these situations. The Penguins’ owner also pointed out that his own team would have already been fined $600,000 dollars under the new format.
The reaction to the plan was largely positive, but Cooke’s hit on Ryan McDonagh on Sunday afternoon seemed to have broken the damn and Lemieux criticism is again flying free.
This entire situation can’t be leaving a nice taste in the collective mouths of Lemieux, Shero and everyone else involved with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It will certainly be interesting to watch how the rest of this story plays out over the next several weeks and into the off-season.
Matt Cooke Suspensions By the Numbers:
03/21/11 14-17 games – Hit to head
02/9/11 4 games – Hit from behind
11/29/09 2 games – Check to head
1/27/09 2 games – Hit to head
2/21/04 2 games – Spearing