Colin Campbell Says Matt Cooke Hit Legal and "The Big E" Agrees...Sort Of

Eric WarrenCorrespondent IIMarch 12, 2010

NEW YORK - JULY 22:  Colin Campbell, Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations for the National Hockey League, addresses the media during a press conference explaning the NHL rule changes at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers on July 22, 2005 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images for NHLI)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I absolutely agree with Colin Campbell's decision regarding the hit delivered by the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke on Boston's Marc Savard.

Do not assume my agreeing with the decision means I liked the hit. I didn't.

The fact remains, however, that it was a legal hit according to the rules of the NHL regarding shoulder checks.

There was a time in the NHL when the players respected one another. When Ken Baumgartner, who played 13 seasons in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, among others, was about to deliver an open ice shoulder check and he knew his "victim" couldn't see him, he would shout "heads up" before delivering the hit.

You never hear of that happening anymore.

This, to me, is the biggest underlying problem the NHL has to overcome if it wants to eliminate head shots in the league.

People everywhere are crying foul because Colin Campbell decided the difference between the Cooke hit and Mike Richards hit was that there was no obvious intent to injure. He's right. If you watch the Richards hit, his body sprang up into the check, which demonstrates a likely intent to injure.

Cooke did not.

However, according to the rules, Cooke's hit was a legal shoulder check because shoulder checks aren't defined in the rule book.

Convenient, Mr. Campbell.

However, according to the rule regarding hitting from behind, it was, by definition of that rule, illegal.

44.1 Checking from Behind: A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed.

The trouble with this penalty is that it isn't automatic, and too discretionary. The simplest thing to do would be to make it automatic. The last part of the rule allows for players to turn their backs intentionally to try and draw a penalty. The penalty for checking from behind, by the way, is an automatic five-minute major.

The player who was on the receiving end of the hit, if the official deems that he turned his back to draw a penalty, would then receive a diving penalty.

People may think that calling two penalties would slow the game down, but I disagree.  Furthermore, if calling two penalties resulted in fewer of these types of checks, isn't it worth it?


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