Monday, March 21, 2011

NHL suspends Cooke 10 games plus Round One

Sometimes, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. Make that one for NHL Deputy Colin Campbell, who got this one right by suspending controversial Penguins forward Matt Cooke the rest of the season along with the first round of the playoffs, stemming from his blindside elbow of Ranger rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh yesterday.

The 32 year-old Cooke is quite familiar to illegal hits that can hurt opponents such as the unpenalized one he committed on Marc Savard last year, whose career might never be the same. The Boston center suffered a concussion and then another one in his return that derailed his 2010-11 season. Last year, the Pens' pest was banned two games for knocking out Artem Anisimov, which was his third suspension. Following a four-game sentence for a dangerous hit from behind on Columbus blueliner Fedor Tyutin, a month later Cooke struck again when he stuck out his elbow with McDonagh in a prone position. Fortunately, the former Badger was alright. However, he did sit out team practice as a precaution today.

Following Mario Lemieux's heavy criticism of the league's mishandling of the Pens-Islanders brawl that included 19 games for Trevor Gillies and a mandatory 10 for Eric Godard along with a single digit ban for Matt Martin and a hefty $100,000 fine for the Islanders, the league had no choice but to severely punish one of the Pens' own. Cooke is a repeat offender who hasn't gotten the message. Yesterday's latest incident, a blindside hit to the back of McDonagh's head, was potentially dangerous. These are the type of cheap shots that have no place in the game and must be phased out. In a statement from Campbell, he said:

"Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position. This isn’t the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response.”

Oddly enough, I said I wanted 10 games plus Round One. Something that at least would put some emphasis on the postseason. If you look past Cooke's record, he's a valuable player to the Pens who is a chief penalty killer, able to contribute offensively. In 67 contests this season, the former Canuck has 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points along with three shorthanded goals while racking up 129 penalty minutes. Considering that Sidney Crosby's return is still questionable despite practicing, it's a huge loss for a team that plays on the edge. Pittsburgh leads the league with 72 majors. Even if you're the biggest Cooke detractor, he's a solid player despite his idiocy tendencies. Explained Penguins GM Ray Shero of a suspension that was “warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game:

"Head shots have no place in hockey. We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.

I don’t think you can talk about eliminating head shots from the game, as we have as an organization, and not expect (Cooke’s hit) to be examined,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said following yesterday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers. “It’s what looks to be a contact right to the head on the play, so the league will look at that and treat it as such.

This is a step in the right direction for a league who too often looks the other direction when these types of illegal hits take place. Hopefully, it will set a precedent and further discourage players from taking part in such actions. Let this be a lesson. Further perpetrators will be properly disciplined.

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