The NHL's suspension of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke(notes) for an elbow delivered to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh(notes) kowtows to popular opinion, smacks of a "makeup call" for previous unpunished misdeeds and stands in utter conflict with the precedents previously established by the NHL's supplemental discipline system.
In other words: It's about time.
Cooke was suspended 10 games — otherwise known as "the rest of the regular season" for the Penguins -- and banned from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for this hit on McDonagh, which may or may not have even led to an injury (he skipped practice today):
From the NHL, the official word:
TORONTO (March 21, 2011) -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season (10 games) and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for delivering an elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in NHL game #1080 yesterday, the National Hockey League announced today. Cooke will forfeit $219,512.20 in salary.
"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."
Cooke's most recent suspension was for four games on Feb. 9, 2011 and under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement forfeits his salary based on the number of games in the season (82), rather than the number of days (186). The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund. The incident occurred at 4:36 of the third period and Cooke was assessed a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.
Cooke will miss Pittsburgh's remaining 10 regular-season games and be ineligible for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Considering his actions, this is a massive, message-sending suspension to Cooke. Do you think it went far enough, or too far, or not far enough?
What the NHL essentially did was give Cooke, potentially, a 24-game suspension for this second offense in 2010-11.
The common hockey math has always been one playoff game equals two regular season games when it comes to suspension. In essence, Donald Brashear(notes), then of the Washington Capitals, was given the equivalent of a 10-game suspension in the 2009 playoffs.
If the Penguins play a seven-game first-round series sans Cooke, it's a de facto 24-gamer, or five games more than Trevor Gillies(notes) of the New York Islanders received in two suspensions. Again, by hockey math, of which Colin Campbell is well aware.
So the NHL has had its say, hitting Cooke in the wallet -- if you want an NHL player's attention, start there -- and potentially alienating him from his team by reinforcing how selfish and untimely his actions were.
"He's a great player, and people don't realize how good of a player he is… if you don't watch him play every night you don't know. We know."
Coach Dan Bylsma called Cooke a good player "when he plays within the rules," but said his latest illegal hit was "disappointing to see … on that situation, given the timing and the circumstances.
"That's a hit we don't want in the game," Bylsma said. "Considering the time on the clock and in the game that makes it that much more disappointing. It put our team in a bad spot with 10 minutes to go in a 1-1 game."
So how will the Penguins react? Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet reported earlier that Mario Lemieux had a "shape up or ship out" conversation with Cooke. On Puck Daddy Radio today, Rob Pizzo noted that Cooke would have cost the Penguins $1 million under the terms of Mario Lemieux's plan for team fines.
Is this the breaking point for the Pens? Are they tired of having to answer for his actions?
Shero reminded him before his recent disciplinary hearing to accept ungrudgingly Campbell's ruling on the Tyutin check. "Is he a dirty player? Yeah, he's a dirty player. [Former defenseman] Ulf Samuelsson was a dirty player. But there's value in that. Is there value in injuring players and getting suspended? No. But there are football players in the Hall of Fame who were dirty. There are brushback pitchers in the Hall of Fame."
"The suspension is 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."
If you're someone that wanted to see Cooke made an example of and you're not applauding right now, then nothing sort of crucifixion will satiate you.
Then again … what an easy target, right? The NHL's always been good with punishing the demonized, whether it's Cooke or Gillies or Steve Downie(notes) before them. It's when the Dany Heatleys of the NHL get off lightly for something even more intentional than the Cooke hit that the League's dedication to cleaning up the "garbage" can be questioned.