This afternoon, the NHL announced that Pittsburgh Penguins forward and team pest Matt Cooke was suspended for four games. The discipline came as a result of Cooke hitting Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets from behind in Tuesday's game.
Late in the first period, Tyutin was coming up ice into the Jackets' defensive zone. As he came into the play, Cooke hit him into the boards from behind. Tyutin fell to the ice, and although he was able to get up on his own, Columbus took exception to the hit, and a brawl broke out.
Tyutin did not suffer an injury on the play, but the NHL felt enough was enough with Cooke. He will now serve his suspension after receiving a major boarding penalty last night.
Due to the time sensitive nature of this write-up, I am not going to list Cooke’s every offense over his NHL career. However, I do believe he has been getting off the hook for too long.
Last season, when Cooke hit Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins and gave him a concussion, Cooke got off scot-free. Savard did not and not only suffered a concussion, he also dealt with post-concussion syndrome.
This year, he elbowed Keith Yandle in the head during a matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes. He served a penalty on the play, but no action was taken by the NHL.
In Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals, Cooke made an accidental but careless hit on Alexander Ovechkin’s knee. The only thing that came out of it was a two minute penalty for Cooke.
Now, we have this latest incident.
Cooke deserves a suspension based on the sole fact that the NHL has let him go way too many times. However, it is also time for him to get a message loud and clear: if he keeps up this kind of play when he returns, he could be suspended again, and the suspension will be longer.
Many Penguins fans are disappointed with the suspension. They are upset because the Penguins are missing a lot of players due to injuries and are playing with a lineup that is getting to be largely made up of AHL-ers.
But why should the NHL care?
Cooke was way too selfish last night. Maybe instead of getting involved in yet another questionable play, he should’ve taken notice of how the Pens were struggling without some of their key players and said that he was going to play smarter hockey. He can still be physical without breaking the rules, after all.
Instead, he chose to be stupid. He couldn't seem to resist the urge to be one of the most careless players on the ice and come close to injuring someone on the opposition.
Even Cooke’s teammates don’t always want to defend him.
Last year, when Cooke was receiving criticism for his hit on Savard, Penguins veteran Bill Guerin spoke out against him in the media in an interview with The Boston Herald. He acknowledged that what Cooke did was an accident, but that doesn’t mean there should be no consequences.
“If a guy gets hurt like that with a shot to the head, there’s got to be something.” Guerin said.
“Actions happen. Guys don’t mean to hurt each other, but they do. You got to pay a price for that.”
What stinks about this is that Cooke can be a good player when he wants to be. He has put up 30 points in a season five times and is a fan favorite in Pittsburgh (hated everywhere else, mind you, but that’s another story).
The biggest thing that has me upset as I write this is that many Penguins fans seem to be OK with Cooke’s long history of questionable play. They even try to argue that the Tyutin hit wasn’t that bad and Cooke should not have gotten four games.
Penguins fans that use Twitter have even started a "Free Cooke" trending topic and are doing anything they can to defend Cooke and explain why he should have not been suspended.
Of course, this isn’t the first sign of low class when it comes to Matt Cooke fans. Numerous fans were also quick to make fun of Savard and blame him for getting hurt, and they also laughed at Ovechkin on Sunday when he was dealt a knee-on-knee hit.
However, if Cooke were on the Flyers or the Capitals, the same Penguins fans who are holding him up as a hero right now would be screaming for him to get suspended.
I have always gone back and forth on Cooke. I like him when he is a good player who is actually contributing something to the Penguins. But I don’t like when he is careless and puts other players at risk, even when that other player is Alexander Ovechkin.
A lot of people have argued that Tyutin did not receive an injury. I am happy that Tyutin wasn’t injured, but not all of Cooke’s victims will come away unscathed. Maybe now he will realize that he can hurt someone again, just like he did to Savard.
Unfortunately for those of us that don’t like him, he is ours for a few years. Cooke signed a three-year contract extension in the offseason.
Matt Cooke isn’t the only one who needs to learn that his actions won’t be tolerated in the NHL. A good chunk of the Penguins fanbase needs to learn that lesson, too.
Alison Myers is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Bleacher Report. You can e-mail her at Alison.Myers@mail.com or follow her on Twitter.