It's official, Pittsburgh Penguins' winger Matt Cooke has been suspended for the rest of the season and the first round of the playoffs by the NHL.
Cooke has been suspended for his flying elbow that he delivered to defenseman Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers in the head one day earlier.
Cooke obviously did not play in the Penguins win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night and will miss the nine remaining games on the schedule. In total, Cooke has to miss at least 14 games.
The interesting thing about the hit is that the NHL and, most especially Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux, have been focusing on these kinds of plays and protecting the players better. Lemieux also wants the NHL to discipline players more strictly, especially repeat offenders such as Cooke.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero supported the penalty the NHL gave Cooke. “The suspension is warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game. Head shots have no place in hockey. We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message,” said Ray Shero (courtesy of NHL.com).
It is Cooke's fifth suspension and the fourth since he signed with the Penguins in 2008. He was banned four games last month for hitting Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind.
Do you want Matt Cooke on the Penguins?
At this point it's hard for me, as a Pens' fan and a fan of Cooke to defend him anymore.
There's no defending Cooke.
But, there's also no defending an environment that creates and nurtures a player like Cooke. The only defense I have for Cooke is that he's not the only guy in the league that makes hits like that.
Cooke might not even be the dirtiest player in the game. However, if the league does plan to clean up the league and stop actions like this from happening again, then guys like Cooke can't have a place in the game.
What pains me is that Cooke is a good player, role player that plays hard and can score around 20 goals a year. Also, Cooke was a big part in helping the Penguins win a Stanley Cup two years ago.
Can Cooke change the way he plays? Probably not, but he might have to. He has to at least stop the dumb penalties like the one in Sunday's game against the Rangers. It's great that he plays hard and likes to deliver hits, but it's another thing to try and injure people.
Lastly, you have to realize that, right now, the NHL tolerates players like Trevor Gilles, Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger & Co. as long as the NHL tolerates players like Cooke. So the Penguins should continue to employ him.