As a Pittsburgh Penguin fan, I'm finding it harder and harder to defend Pens' winger Matt Cooke. Not only has the NHL been meeting to discuss how to protect their players better recently, but Cooke's boss, Mario Lemieux, had recently wrote a letter to the NHL, saying that the league should discipline players more severely, and the teams that the guilty player plays for.
During Sunday's game against the New York Rangers, Cooke drove an elbow right into the head of Rangers' defenseman Ryan McDonagh in front of everyone. It was so selfish, so blatant, and to be honest, it was kind of pathetic.
The hit was vicious, stupid, and most of all, very costly to the Penguins. Fact is, Cooke cost the Penguins the game.
That play was the reason the Rangers beat the Penguins, 5-2. Which means it is the reason the Penguins' long-shot chances of overtaking Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division have become more remote. The Penguins, down six points to the Flyers, have no margin for error, and Cooke was guilty of a nasty, inexcusable one.
With the score tied, 1-1, at 4:36 of the third period, he launched his left elbow into the right side of McDonagh's face along the boards at the red line and was being tossed from the game even before McDonagh had crumpled to the ice.
Cooke was given a five-minute penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct. The league office will review the play. Cooke will be starting a rather lengthy suspension sometime before the Penguins visit Detroit at 7:38 tonight is almost certain. It's sad to say, but I expect the NHL to throw the book at Cooke and suspend him for at least five games, but we might see him get 10.
Blows to the head have been an issue of non-stop conversation in NHL circles of late, and aren't going to be overlooked by the officials. Cooke is a repeat offender, who isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt in such situations. He also is a valuable role player, whose absence is felt anytime he is out of the lineup.
That being said, I'm not sure that I can safely say that I am happy Cooke is signed to the team through next year. Cooke is due to make 1.8 million through next season, and is then set to be an unrestricted free-agent.
Can the Penguins really afford to have Cooke on the team anymore? I'm a Cooke fan, he plays hard, can score around 20 goals a year, and seems to be a good locker room guy, but is he really worth having on the roster.
He causes trouble, takes horrible penalties, and usually misses around ten games a year due to suspensions. He's also making it harder and harder to defend him.