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Red and Black Hockey

Will Mario defend Cooke?

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.

Filed in: | Red and Black Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: mario+lemieux, matt+cooke, pittsburgh+penguins

Comments

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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.

Why are you concerned by the reaction?  Fans in all arenas boo penalties against their team regardless of what happened, even if it is a blatant penalty.  And most of the arenas don’t even show a replay of a penalty against a home player. 

Will Mario defend Cooke?  Has he ever defended him before?

Posted by pens fan in baltimore on 03/20/11 at 07:11 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

Cooke is an everypresent danger to everyone on the ice because of this kind of thing. People don’t want to enroll their kids in hockey because they’re worried they will end up on the ice with a kid who plays like Cooke does.

Mario Lemieux made some good comments not long ago that were tainted by the fact that he continues to allow Matt Cooke to be on the ice despite his laundry list of offenses (which include headshots and other dangerous plays). While Lemieux is a credible voice as a legend in the game both on and off the ice, his credibility on this issue is damaged.

If he does not take a strong position on his own player today, his credibility on this issue will be nil.

I think a charitable donation in the amount proposed, depending on the suspension - and keeping in mind the double payment clause - would be a good start. Maybe a research grant.

I also think team discipline is appropriate.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 03/20/11 at 07:18 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

Would also point out that under Clause 2(e) of his Standard Player Contract Cooke is obliged “to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interst of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.”

Clause 4 gives the Club the option to impose a fine or suspension on a player for violation of the terms of the SPC or reasonable club policies.

If Cooke chooses to grieve such a decision, the matter is forwarded to Bettman for final arbitration.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 03/20/11 at 07:31 PM ET

Puck's avatar

Will Mario defend Cooke?  Has he ever defended him before?

Posted by pens fan in baltimore

After his recent screed on this exact manner, it begs the question, and if not answered, when under his own team similar unacceptable behavior occurs, it must be assumed that he who is silent is taken to agree or be complicit with the unacceptable behavior.

Posted by Puck from San Francisco, CA on 03/20/11 at 07:37 PM ET

David Lee's avatar

That’s great info, DLG.  I’ve never bothered to learn the ins and outs of the SPCs.

Mario has put himself in a position where he almost has to impose his own penalty against Cooke.

Posted by David Lee from Greensboro, NC on 03/20/11 at 07:37 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

I don’t know of any specific instances of 2(e) being enforced. I know there have been cases of club suspension for various conduct off ice though - Joe Corvo was suspended by the Kings after being charged with felony assault but that was before the current CBA (though I don’t think the SPC changed much in that respect). 

It’s obviously vague and general - to the point where I’m not sure it would stand up to a serious challenge. Invoking it would be a strong message, though.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 03/20/11 at 07:49 PM ET

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Would also point out that under Clause 2(e) of his Standard Player Contract Cooke is obliged “to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interst of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.”

Clause 4 gives the Club the option to impose a fine or suspension on a player for violation of the terms of the SPC or reasonable club policies.

If Cooke chooses to grieve such a decision, the matter is forwarded to Bettman for final arbitration.

No way Bettman allows any team to force him into this particular fight with Don Fehr.

Posted by steviesteve on 03/20/11 at 07:52 PM ET

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Interesting take, especially the bit about Tim Conboy. I’d love to know what the coaches (or teammates?) at the NHL level said to him, to keep him under control.

You mention that most Penguins fans seem to have had enough of Cooke. You’re definitely right that opinion has turned against him, even among Penguins supporters. I’m glad that they are starting to see the light, but I wonder why this dangerous hit is any different from the many that came before.

Let’s be honest. The Penguins fans and organization have been happy to have Cookie running around, making dangerous plays—happy enough to give him a contract extension, a no-movement (or is it just no-trade?) clause, and an A. It’s not like Cooke just started playing dirty today. So why are Pens fans suddenly changing their minds?

Posted by K on 03/20/11 at 08:07 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I’m just going to let the overreaction, counter-overreaction, then counter-counter-overreaction happen here.

There really isn’t much more to be said about this situation that hasn’t been beaten into the ground.  The ball is firmly in the NHL’s court here.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 03/20/11 at 08:10 PM ET

scotts0's avatar

Better question…why the hell didn’t any Ranger grow a pair of testicles and confront douchebag Cooke right when that happened?  Oh yeah, that’s right…because they’d probably get a game misconduct for instigating.  Ridiculous.

Posted by scotts0 from New York on 03/20/11 at 08:13 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

steviesteve -

I don’t doubt you’re right. All the more reason the NHL has to be sufficiently harsh with Cooke here.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 03/20/11 at 08:15 PM ET

David Lee's avatar

K, it’s only fair to point out that when Tim Conboy got his callups, he had extremely limited ice time.  It’s hard to get into too much trouble when you only have eight shifts in a game.

His employment with the Hurricanes was during that stretch of seasons when they routinely had 250+ man-games lost to injury, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were desperate to have given him callups. 

The things that he used to do at the AHL level were absolutely disgusting.  I was always really nervous that he would pull one of those stunts when he was with the big team, but luckily he never did. 

I dunno if somebody in the front office put the fear of g-d in him, but he managed to keep it somewhat clean in his limited NHL time.

Posted by David Lee from Greensboro, NC on 03/20/11 at 08:18 PM ET

Avatar

Thanks for the follow-up info on Conboy, David. I’ve seen a couple Pirates games where he’s on the roster, but his play was never good enough (or bad enough!) for me to take much note.

Posted by K on 03/20/11 at 08:24 PM ET

David Lee's avatar

K,
Here’s a video of Conboy, as a River Rat, going ballistic against Steve Downie of the Phantoms.  At some point in the fight, Conboy bit Downie.  I know it’s Steve Downie and all, but WTF? 

There was another incident with the Phantoms when he pounced on a Phantoms player who was already being wailed on by another Rat.  Classless play.  In each case, there was something that made a switch turn, and it was really ugly once that happened.

Posted by David Lee from Greensboro, NC on 03/20/11 at 08:34 PM ET

Avatar

Mario should just sit him out until the suspension is announced and then sit him an additional two games on top.  As far as a public statement, he should just say, “i wanted to come out and defend him, but i couldnt think of what to say.  I am going to call Garth Snow for some advice”

Posted by jwit from Indy on 03/20/11 at 08:50 PM ET

Avatar

Once again Cooke show what a worthless piece of shit he is.When will someone take him out?He gets away with this crap because he either turtles or runs to the refs to get escorted off the ice.Time to send someone out there with the sole purpose of ending this *#$%@&’s career.

Posted by bobnoakridge from Oak Ridge, TN on 03/20/11 at 08:56 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

If Bylsma blamed Cooke for the loss, odds are he won’t be dressing anytime soon for anything but the press box.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 03/20/11 at 09:24 PM ET

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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.

Just talked to my brother, who was at the game. According to him, the crowd around him was booing Cooke, not the refs. Take it for what it’s worth.

Posted by steviesteve on 03/20/11 at 09:58 PM ET

Down River Dan's avatar

Interesting snippet from the game report in the post gazzette.

It began when the Penguins’ Matt Cooke hit New York’s Ryan McDonagh near the boards in front of the penalty box. It appeared that Cooke targeted McDonagh’s head with his elbow.

  ????...it appeared that cooke targeted McDonagh’s head…..????

Ummm….how bout this instead….. ” when cooke elbowed McDonagh’s head”    shut eye

Posted by Down River Dan on 03/20/11 at 10:25 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Let’s be honest. The Penguins fans and organization have been happy to have Cookie running around, making dangerous plays—happy enough to give him a contract extension, a no-movement (or is it just no-trade?) clause, and an A. It’s not like Cooke just started playing dirty today. So why are Pens fans suddenly changing their minds?

Posted by K on 03/20/11 at 07:07 PM ET

If we’re being honest, that’s not at all the case.  I’ve been happy to have him chipping in 15 goals and 30+ points every year.  I’ve been happy with his penalty killing prowess and ability to produce points shorthanded.  I’ve been happy with his relentless forechecking and his physical play.

All the other stuff to me, and I’m guessing most intelligent Penguins fans and the organization agree with me, is flat out frustrating.  I could say he plays on the edge, that fine line between physical and dirty - which I’m not sure I ever have - all I want…it’s still frustrating having to read about it.  It’s still frustrating to see him miss 4 or 5 games at a time because of a suspension when the team I love is already shorthanded with injuries to their best players.

And as far as the “suddenly changing our minds part”, if you look at what fans that can take off their black and Vegas gold colored glasses to look at things objectively have to say, you’ll see that they (we) have been saying the same things all along - these plays are stupid and reckless and dangerous.  We love Matt Cooke because he’s a Penguin, he plays hard and he was a big part of a team that brought the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh - but the stupid shit he does on the ice sucks.  It’s incredibly f*cking frustrating.

So, enough is enough I guess.

And if we’re going to chastise Mario for employing Cooke but still wanting to rid the league of dirty and reckless plays/hits, then we need to take a look at other teams in the same light:  Detroit employs Todd Bertuzzi (and Salei), Tampa Bay employs Steve Downie (to touch a nerve with the Wings’ fanbase - ha!), the Rangers have Avery…etc, etc.  Does it make the Ilitch family and Steve Yzerman hypocrites?  And, please, give me some examples of other teams’ owners/coaches/GMs publicly speaking out negatively about a current player on their roster. 

I mean, I get that no one really likes the Pens around here except the Penguin fans…but this Mario bashing has gotten ridiculous.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 03/20/11 at 11:54 PM ET

Denver Wings's avatar

Big difference with Bertuzzi and Cooke as far as the ownership’s role in commenting and taking action and such.  Bertuzzi did his dirty deeds - well, his dirty deed - years before he came to Detroit.  Cooke’s been dishing out head shots during his entire tenure with Pittsburgh. 

Not that the timing excuses anything, but the Illitches haven’t had to say anything with Bertuzzi in town because the Steve Moore thing was over and done with years before (other than the ongoing lawsuit of course).  Cooke’s been pulling this crap on Mario’s watch. 

Just sayin’.

Posted by Denver Wings on 03/21/11 at 01:08 AM ET

Avatar

And if we’re going to chastise Mario for employing Cooke but still wanting to rid the league of dirty and reckless plays/hits, then we need to take a look at other teams in the same light:  Detroit employs Todd Bertuzzi (and Salei), Tampa Bay employs Steve Downie (to touch a nerve with the Wings’ fanbase - ha!), the Rangers have Avery…etc, etc.  Does it make the Ilitch family and Steve Yzerman hypocrites?  And, please, give me some examples of other teams’ owners/coaches/GMs publicly speaking out negatively about a current player on their roster.

I mean, I get that no one really likes the Pens around here except the Penguin fans…but this Mario bashing has gotten ridiculous.

I would also add, the Wings had Avery first… and traded him away because they were sick of his blossoming antics.

I’ll second that Betuzzi was a good boy in Calgary and Florida before signing with the Wings, and hasn’t been involved in any plays I can remember since then.

I also haven’t seen Downie’s name in the news this season, but maybe I missed it.

My take is that it’s not wrong to give players a second chance.  The difference with Cooke is that he’s on to his fourth or fifth chance right now.  And his timing just really sucks.

I’m a Wings fan who didn’t let the recent rivalry with the Penguins make me irrational about their team.  I had liked the Pens since Lemieux’s days and still do, even though I want them to lose every game they play against Detroit. 

That out there…  I didn’t mind Lemieux’s letter after the Islanders game other than its melodramatic and unhelpful tone.  I appreciated the message, but wish he had taken a constructive approach towards fixing the problem rather than just threatening to leave the league.  His new fining plan was better than the first open letter since it actually outlined a mechanism for change, and now’s the first real chance for Lemieux to show those weren’t just words and he’s serious about seeing the league improve. 

I won’t chastise him for employing Cooke, every player has committed a “dirty” infraction in their career.  Sorry, it happens at some point in your hockey life.  Every team even has one or two guys who made a habit of it at some point in their career to get an edge and make sure they could differentiate themselves from all the other AHL/NHL fringe players.

However, Lemieux has recently taken a very vocal stance against the status quo, and he invited this extra scrutiny for all teams but especially his own.  I would have assumed at that point, they would’ve pulled Cooke aside and made sure he was on board.  Given Cooke’s quote to the paper about supporting Rule 48, I think that supports my guess there.  This blatent incident today is inexcusable in light of that, and now Lemieux has to either back his words with action, or accept that he is a hypocrite and that he made a huge mistake in being so vocal on this issue.

Posted by HitokiriEric from Ann Arbor, MI on 03/21/11 at 03:29 AM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

It does appear from the video (now that I watch it with sound) that the crowd reacts long enough after the fact that I could believe it’s something on the jumbotron. I suppose it’s still a question of whether it’s a replay of the hit or the 5:00 penalty, though.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 03/21/11 at 04:34 AM ET

Avatar

Flash,

In some ways I can sympathize with your frustration at having a player like Matt Cooke, who can play very well, take needless penalties. I bet it’s also frustrating to have anonymous commentators like me criticize your team in trying times!

What I was trying to ask, and perhaps I wasn’t very articulate, was in response to David’s point in the main post that some Penguins fans have had enough of Matt Cooke. I think David was right about that—you can see lots of Pens fans saying on Empty Netters and Pensburgh that after this play, they are fed up with Cooke.

But I’m wondering why. Flash, you laid out the good (plays hard) and bad (stupid shit) yourself. Did something about this hit on McDonagh change that risk:reward ratio?

Look, I wish as much as you do that the Penguins could say, “We’ll take the relentless forecheck, the excellent PK, and the 30+ points, but you can keep the undisciplined penalties for dangerous hits (and the attendant venom from strangers on the internet).” But it doesn’t work that way. When it comes to Cooke, the “frustrations” are part of the package—and they shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Posted by K on 03/21/11 at 08:18 AM ET

redxblack's avatar

I’m surprised Mario hasn’t made a public statement yet on this elbowing incident. Perhaps he’ll have a press release this morning. For a guy who likes to fire off missives when they negatively affect his team, he hasn’t been quick to jump here.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 03/21/11 at 09:14 AM ET

redxblack's avatar

Cooke has a 1:30 hearing with the NHL. Mario has been silent. His credibility is on the line with how he handles this. Matt Cooke is likely in lots of trouble with the boss. This might be a “void his contract” sort of situation.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 03/21/11 at 01:07 PM ET

Avatar

K,

I think the main reason Pens fans are “fed up” with Cooke is that he is now making Mario Lemieux look foolish.  And that doesn’t sit right with Pens fans…..

Posted by Matt from Pittsburgh on 03/21/11 at 01:42 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

I think Mario is justified in waiting until after the league does its thing, but he will have to make a statement regardless.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 03/21/11 at 01:44 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

Big difference with Bertuzzi and Cooke as far as the ownership’s role in commenting and taking action and such.  Bertuzzi did his dirty deeds - well, his dirty deed - years before he came to Detroit.  Cooke’s been dishing out head shots during his entire tenure with Pittsburgh. 

Not that the timing excuses anything, but the Illitches haven’t had to say anything with Bertuzzi in town because the Steve Moore thing was over and done with years before (other than the ongoing lawsuit of course).  Cooke’s been pulling this crap on Mario’s watch. 

Just sayin’.

Not to mention Bertuzzi has kept the relative demeanor of a choir boy since his reinstatement into the NHL.  (I still think he should never have been invited back.)  Maybe Cooke could show similar contrition?  I’m sure it couldn’t be that hard for him to get Bert’s phone number to ask for some pointers on how to stop being an ass.

To me Sean Avery’s relationship with the Red Wings and the Stars make a good case study in the Cooke question.  When Avery wouldn’t listen to Yzerman or Shanahan when they told him to cut the crap, the Wings dropped him.  When the Avery went over the line with the “sloppy seconds” comment, the Stars suspended him got ten games, WITHOUT waiting for the NHL’s response.  Why does Pitt insist on low roading it for this guy? 

It is funny how the Pens are supposed to be Philly’s rival, but they keep on following the Flyer’s (albeit traditional) act.

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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. 

David has contributed to CBC.ca for their Stanley Cup playoff coverage in 2006 and to the New York Times Slapshot blog for theirs in 2008. Red and Black Hockey was founded in July of 2005.