Matt Cooke’s despicable dirty elbow puts Mario Lemieux and NHL on the hot seat

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It seems that lately not a week goes by without some debate or outrage over a hit. In the last year, the name that comes up more often than not is Matt Cooke. Once again, Cooke delivered a very blatant and dirty hit, this time to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Cooke’s hit put the Penguins down a man for five minutes as he was ejected for the blow. During the course of the major penalty, the Pens were able to score once shorthanded but allowed two goals to swing the game in their favor.

This time around, his chicken-wing elbow to the back of McDonagh’s head comes during a high-profile game just days after the NHL’s general managers met in Florida to figure out what to do about further reducing blows to the head. Thankfully McDonagh wasn’t injured on the play, that’s the good news. The bad news is that Matt Cooke is continued to terrorize opponents on the ice with his brand of hockey. When not delivering cheap shots, Cooke is an excellent checking forward but today’s incident against the Rangers proves that he just doesn’t get it and the guy that’s going to have his hands full in dealing with him is Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.

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After the Islanders-Penguins brawl in Long Island, Lemieux lambasted the league for not doing enough to protect its players. Lemieux was torn to shreds for his statements for his seeming ignorance that he employs a cheap shot artist of his own. Lemieux then later wrote a letter to Gary Bettman coming up with some very progressive ideas on how to improve punishment for dirty hits including fining teams large sums of money for keeping those players employed under their watch. In that letter, Lemieux owned up to the players of that ilk they have on their team, a nod to those critical of his first statement.

Now all those who clamored for Lemieux to recognize that his employment of Matt Cooke is part of the problem in the NHL have a loud voice again and rightfully so. For all the issues the league is having with players disrespecting each other and delivering questionable hits to one another Cooke is the poster boy for it all. From his boarding of Fedor Tyutin that earned him a four game suspension, to his hit on Ovechkin, and thinking back to his disgusting hit on Marc Savard a year ago the league hasn’t had this obvious of a pariah in its history.

The NHL has whiffed badly on previous instances on an alarmingly consistent basis to show that they give even half of a damn about player safety. For all the talk that went on at the GM meetings we’ve seen the league fail to take charge with their soft two-game punishment of Brad Marchand of the Bruins for connecting to the back of R.J. Umberger’s head with a blow and the failure to punish Patric Hornqvist of the Predators for his elbow on Boston’s Tyler Seguin. Two very dirty plays, two very head-scratching and soft penalties to both. This time around, the league has a lot to work with.

Cooke’s hit touches on a lot of things the league wants to eliminate from the game and makes him the perfect target for a message-sending landmark punishment:

  • He delivered a blindside hit
  • He delivered a blow to the head
  • He targeted McDonagh’s head
  • He’s a repeat offender

If all those things aren’t grounds for a major suspension, then there’s something inherently wrong with everything the league is doing when it comes to disciplining players.

The one guy who could make the debate over what the NHL will do irrelevant is Lemieux. If Lemieux believes in what he was preaching to the world in the wake of the Islanders thuggery against them, he’ll drop the hammer on Cooke himself before the NHL gets to. If Mario comes out and does that, he’ll set the example he was hoping to with his initial decree to the league. People respect Mario and if he takes a stand like that he’ll be an even bigger hero across the league.

We’re going to assume that the NHL’s response to Cooke’s hit will not be sufficient for most people. After all, how do you appropriately punish a player that’s escaped previous bans for any number of reasons and thus getting by on the NHL’s backwards logic that you’re essentially allowed one dirty play before you’re really punished. Cooke’s record looks virtually spotless considering he’s played over 800 games in the NHL and only been suspended for a total of 10 games in his career.

It seems that each time after he does something else foul we rush to yell that it’s an opportunity for the NHL to send a message to the rest of the players that wanton wretched play will not stand in the game. We’ve yet to be wowed by anything the league has done regarding other thugs and cheap shot artists and maybe for once the league can finally do something to be a positive influence instead of just talking about doing things the “right” way.

Treliving: Flames paid price in Hamonic deal, but ‘you can never have enough top d-men’

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Two years ago, Brad Treliving acquired Dougie Hamilton at the draft. On Saturday, he picked up Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders.

Those are two moves that have significantly helped the Flames build a formidable top-four defense in the Western Conference, and it’s already been suggested it could be in the conversation with Nashville’s group that includes Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Yes, the Flames paid a price — first and second-round picks in next year’s NHL Draft and a second-round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft.

But after making the playoffs this season and then making a recent trade with Arizona to acquire goalie Mike Smith, the Flames seem to feel they’re in their window to win now. Today’s move further solidifies that notion.

“You’ve got to give to get,” said Treliving, the Flames general manager, of the Hamonic deal. “You hate paying the price. But we looked at a lot of things: We looked at the makeup of our team, where he fits. He’s a right shot. We think he fits in real good with our team.

“I like the looks of our top-four. He moves pucks. He’s a character kid. He’s got some bite to him.”

The Flames now have their top four defensemen locked into contracts through at least 2020, which was one of the important factors in acquiring Hamonic, according to Treliving. Mark Giordano, who turns 34 in October, is signed through 2022 and Hamilton is signed through 2021.

Treliving lauded the puck-moving ability of Giordano, Hamilton and T.J. Brodie — who combined for 31 goals and 125 points, led by Hamilton’s 13-goal, 50-point campaign. But, he said, the move to acquire Hamonic brings added toughness and versatility into the group.

“He checks a lot of boxes for us,” he said. “I think you build up through the middle. This, to me, solidifies our defense. I like our center ice position. There’s depth there and we’ll keep tweaking at it, but I like the looks of that defense.”

As a result of injuries, Hamonic played in only 49 games last season.

With the way Hamonic plays, Treliving admitted there may be greater risk for injury, but the Flames don’t have any concerns about that heading into next season.

The Flames also have some young, up-and-coming defensemen in their system, most notably 20-year-old prospect Oliver Kylington, who fell to 60th overall in 2015, even though there was talk he could be a first-round pick.

“I think we’ve got some young kids coming. It allows them to progress and develop at their own timeline,” said Treliving. “But you can never have enough defensemen. You can never have enough top defensemen.”

Snow open to trading picks, prospects to improve roster now

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CHICAGO — Garth Snow may not be done dealing.

After trading defenseman Travis Hamonic to Calgary, the New York Islanders’ general manager said the return from the Flames could be used as “currency” to bolster the roster.

The Isles received a first-round pick in 2018 and a second-round pick in 2018, plus other considerations, for Hamonic.

“I don’t envision anything happening here in the next two days, though that could always change,” said Snow. “We feel we have a good hockey team. We have a team that’s built for now and for the future. I mean, you look at our prospects and the draft picks, we also have the ability to use some of those assets to bring in a player that can improve our club in the near term.”

Snow has reportedly had his eye on Colorado forward Matt Duchene, but so far has been unable to make a deal with the Avalanche.

As for trading Hamonic, Snow said it was made more palatable by the “great depth” the Isles have got on the back end.

That said, it was a tough, emotional decision.

“I think the world of him, on and off the ice,” Snow said of Hamonic. “Just a first-class player and first-class person.”

Snow would not divulge if the move was related to Hamonic’s trade request from 2015.

“I think he’s in a good place to play for his family, and the Islanders got a solid return,” said Snow. “I think it’s a win-win for both teams.”

Report: Rangers to hire Lindy Ruff as an assistant coach

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More coaching news on Saturday.

Lindy Ruff’s time with the Dallas Stars ended in April following a disappointing regular season, but it appears he’s found another coaching gig in the NHL.

It is, however, a different role than what he’s been used to for the past 20 years.

Per Larry Brooks of the New York Post, a deal has not been done yet, however, Ruff will join the Rangers as an assistant coach on Alain Vigneault’s staff. He’ll reportedly replace Jeff Beukeboom and will be in charge of New York’s defense.

Ruff certainly brings experience, with 1,165 games coached in the NHL. He’s been a head coach since 1997 when he joined the Buffalo Sabres, and hasn’t been an assistant since a four-year tenure with the Florida Panthers from 1993 to 1997.

The Rangers’ defense has undergone notable changes this offseason, with Dan Girardi getting bought out of his six-year, $33 million contract. With about $20 million now in cap space, New York may not be done making moves to their blue line this offseason.

The Rangers made a blockbuster trade with the Coyotes on Friday, sending Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for the seventh overall pick and 21-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

Vegas parlays second-round pick into prospect forward Keegan Kolesar

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The Vegas Golden Knights had a surplus of draft picks in the opening two rounds this weekend, and they used one of those to make a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

The Golden Knights sent the 45th overall pick in this year’s draft to Columbus in exchange for 20-year-old prospect forward Keegan Kolesar, who has spent the last four years with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

In each of the last two years, Kolesar has put up good numbers, scoring a junior career high of 30 goals and 61 points in 64 games in 2015-16. He had 60 points this past season, but played in 10 fewer games due to a sports hernia surgery, so he was on pace to far exceed his totals from the previous campaign.

He was most impressive for the Thunderbirds in the 2017 WHL playoffs. In 19 games, he scored 12 goals and 31 points. Great production for that time of year. But in addition to those numbers, what may be most intriguing to Vegas is that Kolesar brings tremendous size down the right wing. Standing 6-foot-2 and 223 pounds, his physical play for the Thunderbirds was lauded during their postseason run, which resulted in a Memorial Cup berth.

“Keegan is one of the most important guys to our success,” Thunderbirds coach Steve Konowalchuk told the Columbus Dispatch. “He could easily have been a co-MVP of the playoffs. Not only does he produce a ton of points, but his physical play has had a huge impact on every playoff series.”

Having turned 20 in April, Kolesar will be eligible to play in the AHL or NHL next season, per the Golden Knights.