Matt Cooke Elbow: Should the Pittsburgh Penguins Trade the Suspended Winger?

Mike ShannonFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2011

In the wake of Matt Cooke's long suspension, rumors have sprung up that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and team president David Morehouse have decided that Matt Cooke needs to be traded. 

Furthermore, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that GM Ray Shero disagrees with this sentiment and is adamant about keeping the headline-grabbing forward.

So who's right?

I obviously defer to Lemieux on most things hockey related, but I think I'm going to side with the GM on this one. It's pretty obvious (at least to me) that this suspension has more to do with Lemieux criticizing the NHL publicly than it does with proving a point about headshots.

Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell, two of the most politically-driven sports figures of the modern era, decided they wanted to make an example of Lemieux's team and crippled his team with a suspension as a big "F-YOU!" for daring to question their rulings. It's so transparent that even out-of-town journalists are picking up on it.

Let's be very clear on this: Matt Cooke deserved to be suspended, there is no question about that.  However, the inconsistencies in the NHL's suspension policy leaves much to be desired.

If you doubt that, look at recent events: Brad May elbows a guy in head, he gets a two-game suspension. Dany Heatley elbows a player blatantly in the face—two games for you, Mr. Heatley. 

Matt Cooke does the exact same thing and gets 17 games...are you sensing something here? 

God help Matt Cooke if he ever elbows Gregory Campbell in the face—they might put him in front of a firing squad. Trevor Gillies, meanwhile, commits two egregious acts within 20 seconds of ice time and gets 10 games for both, shorter than the Matt Cooke suspension.

Cooke has been labeled as a "repeat offender," which is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. Do they not send you to jail if it's your first time robbing a bank? "If you do it again, though, you're in real trouble, young man."

Lemieux and Morehouse believe that they need to get rid of Cooke in order to continue their crusade against headshots in the NHL. Shero thinks they can keep Cooke while still maintaining their stance, since this problem was created by the league in the first place.

The Pittsburgh Penguins need Matt Cooke. So long as idiots like Jody Shelly, Trevor Gillies and Matt Bradley are out there, the Pens need to have someone who can dish out some punishment. Don't blame the Penguins for merely following the formula that the league has laid out before them.

The NHL wants the league to be just as much about toughness as it is about skill, and that's just stupid.  They want David Steckel's "grit and determination" to make him equal with Sidney Crosby's skill, and they don't care how many concussions it takes to get that done. 

That's why they don't want to ban headshots and that's why players like Matt Cooke still exist.

I want an NHL where players like Cooke are rendered useless. I would love to trade Matt Cooke and acquire another sniper who is free to skate the ice without worrying about being slammed into the boards or take a knee-on-knee hit, but that's not going to happen.

So long as goons exist on other teams, you're going to need a tough guy on your team to counteract them. You can't simply ship them all out of town and let your skilled players get demolished every game. Matt Cooke is a necessary evil and the NHL is 100 percent to blame for that.

So I say keep Matt Cooke—keep him until the rules are changed to fit what hockey is supposed to be:  wide open, fast, skilled and exciting. Mario should tell the league, "Listen, until things are changed, I accept the risk of employing this guy."

For those people who criticize the Penguins for keeping Cooke, how about you turn your attention to the Detroit Red Wings? They have a guy named Todd Bertuzzi on their roster, and I don't think I need to remind you of what he did.