The NHL has weighed in on Matt Cooke’s deplorable elbow to the back of Ryan McDonagh’s head and their ruling is strong. The NHL has suspended Cooke for the remainder of the regular season (10 games) as well as for the first round of the NHL playoffs. At a minimum it’s a 14-game ban and it’s 17 games at the most, but either way it’s a firm message from the league that these sorts of things will not be tolerated. Cooke will forfeit $219,512.50 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell taking this strong of a stand against a repeat offender is a breath of fresh air from an office that’s often maddeningly inconsistent. In this case with a player causing a dangerous play with reckless abandon, that’s one area that Campbell’s been firm on. Trevor Gillies being hit with separate nine and ten game suspensions for blows to the head is an example of that. The key now for the league is to apply this heavy-handed kind of punishment right off the bat rather than waiting for a player to get away with it once, twice, or in Cooke’s case five times before hammering them.
Campbell’s take on this displays the league’s feelings this time around.
“Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position,” said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. “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.”
The fact that the NHL is also hitting Cooke with a suspension for the playoffs as well speaks volumes as the playoffs are generally when suspensions are softened because the games are more important to the team. Think back to the 2007 playoffs alone that saw then Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger get suspended on two different occasions for one game for questionable hits. Cooke being forced to sit down for a full round is a huge statement from the league regardless of how many games that series goes.
The question now becomes what will the Penguins response to this be. Pens owner Mario Lemieux has been outspoken about dangerous plays and has both taken the NHL to task and offered suggestions on how to improve things. Considering Cooke is Lemieux’s own problem child, his statement (should he offer one) will be fascinating to hear.
Kudos to the NHL on this one because this was a time that demanded action on their part. For all the talk and grandstanding about caring about player health and wanting to eliminate blows to the head, letting Cooke slip by with a minimal punishment this time around would’ve shown the league to be hypocritical and egregiously careless on these matters. The league didn’t fail this time, now they just need to prove to us how consistent they want to be.