Colin Campbell and the National Hockey League had probably its best chance at showing that they were serious about enforcing Rule 48, which bans hits to the head – and which came into being after Matt Cooke concussed Marc Savard last season. Surprisingly, the league got it right. Their often random, scattershot discipline took into consideration that Cooke is a four time offender – and has already been suspended once this season for a very questionable hit.
The NHL suspended Cooke for the Penguins’ final ten games, as well as the first round of the playoffs – so the suspension will be between ten and seventeen games. It’s a blow to the Penguins, because they lose a guy who can clear room for their offensive forwards, as well as a locker room presence that’s appreciated. Those kinds of things don’t matter when you’ve concussed or seriously injured someone in some other way. Cooke has a track record, and with this punishment the league should (in theory) discourage the way that he plays.
Craig Custance has a good point about this whole thing. The Penguins can defend Cooke as a person as much as they want to. But by always having to do so, while at the same time address his questionable hits and the like, places stress on the organization and their image.
The Penguins’ image suffers here as much as Cooke’s, and that is unfortunate. To be associated with a player who consistently plays like Matt Cooke does wouldn’t be bad – in fact, it’d be great – if he kept the inappropriate hitting out of the game. He’s a good forward; he can score, and he can annoy other teams on ice. He’s a useful pest, but when he hurts others – or even when he doesn’t – through reckless play, he renders himself a detriment to his team.
The Penguins are a better organization than this – Cooke’s play has tarnished their image, and if Mario Lemieux doesn’t come out and condemn Cooke’s hit and accept his punishment, then his ownership position’s as tarnished as his team. It’s unfortunate, but Cooke’s put his boss in a very, very awkward position. It’s up to Mario to extricate himself.