Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 03/20/11 at 06:03 PM ET
By now, we’ve all seen the nasty hit delivered to the head of Ryan McDonagh by Matt Cooke. Just in case, I’ll post it after the jump. I think even the most dedicated Penguins fan will admit that the elbow was brought up intentionally and that he targeted McDonagh’s head. The “intent to injure” might not be as cut and dried, but the act itself is pretty clear. By now, we’ve all also heard the shots fired at the NHL by Mario Lemieux after the recent incidents from Trevor Gillies of the Islanders. We’ve also heard his proposal for a multi-tiered system of fines for clubs when their players get suspended and the doubling of fines for repeat offenders.
There’s something ironic about the fact that there’s an article in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about how some of the Penguins players, including Matt Cooke are in favor of the league’s efforts to firmly penalize head hits. At the GM meetings last week, it was reported that Penguins GM Ray Shero was hoping for a vote in favor of going beyond Rule 48—the “Matt Cooke” rule—to impose a blanket ban on all head shots.
Cooke doesn’t agree with going that far, but agrees that something has to be done. His quote from the article:
I think the biggest concern out of all of this at the meetings was: Something needs to be done, but without it being a knee-jerk reaction. It’s something that they’re aware of. They’re working at it. I think it’s a process. They’re going to do what’s best, or at least recommend what’s best, not only for the game, but also the players.
His actions, unfortunately, speak louder than his words, and not in a good way. I’m anxious to hear his comments and more importantly, Mario Lemieux’s comments on this matter.
Here, in case you missed it, is a video of the nasty hit:
I’m a little concerned by the reaction of the fans in the Consol Energy Center. Are they really booing the penalty call and the ejection of Cooke? Maybe I’m not giving them enough credit. Maybe they’re booing Cooke.
In Mario’s proposal, he was honest enough to point out that under his own proposed system, his club would have to shell out $600k in fines this season. I’m assuming that Cooke gets at least four games for his shenanigans today, and possibly closer to nine games. Under the proposed system, a nine game ban would mean a fine of $1M, since this is Cooke’s second offense.
I’m really hoping that Lemieux sticks to his guns even when it’s his own player who is in the wrong. When Colin Campbell comes back with whatever suspension the wheel of justice determines, I hope that Lemieux continues to say “This player hasn’t learned, and the League isn’t doing enough to make him learn”. I hope that he and Shero say “We accept this suspension” instead of doing that thing that GMs do by saying “We don’t agree with it, but it is what it is”.
Now, the league has a wonderful opportunity to return a shot across Mario Lemieux’s bough by making an example of Cooke. They won’t.
Based on some of the comments that I’ve seen, Penguins fans have had enough of Matt Cooke. It’s natural to want to defend the guy, but this one seems pretty indefensible. Some Penguins fans are saying that his elbow and subsequent ejection was the singular cause for the Pens loss today. That’s probably an exaggeration, but it certainly doesn’t help your already depleted team if you put yourself in the locker room with 15 minutes to play in (what was then) a 1-1 game. He’s put his team in a bad spot a number of times this season, and there was some playoff seeding on the line today.
Cooke has two years remaining on his contract at $1.8M per season AND a no-trade clause. And a one-way contract. The Pens are going to be stuck with this guy. At some point, Lemieux and Shero are going to get tired of going to bat for him. Cooke has stated in the past that he’s changed his style of play because of the Matt Cooke rule, but his actions today suggest that he hasn’t. Some Pens fans have suggested that the Pens trade him in the summer, but even if the NTC wasn’t a factor, there aren’t many teams who would come calling for him. As gritty as he is, and even taking into account the offensive production from a “grit” guy, he’s a liability.
This kind of reckless, selfish, dangerous play used to be a characteristic of Alex Ovechkin, but George McPhee and Gabby have managed to correct that. It’s been weeks since Ovi has kneed anybody. In the case of Ovechkin, it was an absolute imperative to rein that in. He’s their star player, their captain, the face of the franchise. They can’t have him sitting in the press box. In the case of Matt Cooke, the incentive for the Pens would be that they could prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if they can get him to cut that stuff out.
The Hurricanes used to have a player (Tim Conboy) in their system who was a real mess at the AHL level. Multiple suspensions for dangerous, careless play. He racked up boatloads of “bad” penalty minutes and he hurt his team in more ways than he helped them. The way that he was able to help was that he was a gritty tough guy. A fierce competitor. He would do a lot to protect his teammates and his team. What he didn’t understand was that when he went into those fits of blind rage, he wasn’t protecting his team at all. He was hurting them. When the Canes were desperate for a warm body, he got a couple of call-ups and he always minded his Ps and Qs at the NHL level. Sure, he fought a couple of times, and sure, he took some minor penalties, but he never did the really dumb stuff that got him into trouble in the AHL. These days, he’s with the Portland Pirates (Buffalo Sabres), and is leading his team in PIM with 198. For the record, that’s twice as much as the next guy on the Pirates’ PIM list.
As an aside, Tim Conboy has a little brother named Andrew who played at Michigan State. Conboy the younger withdrew from school after he was involved in nasty on-ice incident which resulted in a freshman season-ending suspension. He now plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montréal Canadiens) of the AHL.
My point in bringing up Conboy is that I wouldn’t go to bat for a Hurricanes player if he was doing this kind of thing on a repeat basis. I remember a few seasons ago when Scott Walker was given a suspension for head-butting Mike Fisher of the Senators, I was pretty hard on him about that. So, to answer the question that’s being begged: Yes, I would have the same things to say if this was somebody like Troy Bodie or even Tim Gleason doing this kind of stupid thing.
I think there’s a one game automatic suspension for Cooke, and he’ll be talking to Colin Campbell and the wheel of justice tomorrow afternoon.
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David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.