Matt Cooke’s Dangerous Elbow

Matt Cooke, who like most NHL players is actually a nice guy off the ice, seems to suffer from a disorder that makes his on-ice personality the target of the ire of not only his opponents, but even his team-mates.  And now, like ripples through a still pond, a backlash is growing that may ultimately lead to his blacklisting from the NHL.

First, here’s the elbow to the head of Savard (for those few who haven’t seen it) that started it all on Sunday Night:

You’d expect me to quote the Bruins’ Captain now, after we’ve learned that Savard is out indefinitely with a Grade 2 concussion… likely for the remainder of the season.  But no… instead one of the most vocal critics of the hit calling for Cooke’s suspension is his own teammate, NHL veteran Bill Guerin:

“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.”

Guerin said players must know they can play the game with protection against hits to the head, especially those that a player can’t see coming.

“We’re all under the same umbrella, whether the guy’s on my team and I’m sitting right next to him or he’s playing in California,” Guerin said. “It doesn’t matter. We’re all playing in the same league. We all want the same safety. We all want to be looked after the same way. I understand he [Cooke] is on my team but, hey, he’s in a tough spot.”

This says a lot about this situation.  Always known as a gritty player since he joined the Canucks, since being traded to the Capitals and later picked up as a free agent by Pittsburgh, he has become known around the league as something of a cheap shot artist.  He’s picked up two suspensions for dubious hits and has been expected to receive more, but the NHL is doing nothing in this case.  Other players are chiming in to see that these kind of hits aren’t overlooked again.  According to TSN, Lecavalier and St Louis have joined in the chorus, too:

“He’s got no respect for the players,” said Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier.  “Matt Cooke, he’s been doing that for a long time.”

Like much of the league, Lecavalier wants to see a change in the way that headshots are penalized, but he realizes that the majority of the onus remains on the players themselves to do the right thing.  Something Lecavalier believes that Cooke ignored.

“He knew exactly what he was doing when he came with his shoulder,” Lecavalier stated.  “He knew exactly that he was going to hit his head and that’s how guys get hurt.”

Lecavalier was not alone in his criticism, Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis was also vocal about his displeasure at the lack of suspension for a repeat offender like Cooke.

“There are certain players in this league, that you tend to see on the highlights with hits like that,” said St. Louis.  “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was given by Matt Cooke.  He’s a hard working player, I don’t want to take anything away from the way he plays the game but I think that there are times when guys are vulnerable and he still follows through.  If that hit is not a suspension, I don’t know what is.”

Locker rooms and social occasions within and around the NHL community are about to become very frosty places for Matt Cooke, according to Sheldon Souray:

“Two guys punch each other’s lights out, then you go to bar and you have a couple of beers together.  When you’re Matt Cooke, you go to the bar that night and there is no camaraderie. There are no friends.

“When you fight, there is something honourable in that. But you flip that switch — you start hurting guys — there is noting honourable in that.”

Unfortunately, there’s a rematch in store for the Bruins and the Penguins next week.  It’s likely Matt Cooke will dress for the game.  And because the league has not enforced a penalty in this blatant case of endangerment, it will be up to Boston’s enforcers Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic to exact a penalty.  Will there be a repeat of the dreaded Bertuzzi-Moore revenge incident?

Six years hence, the NHL continues to prove itself thoroughly incapable of protecting the players.

For the sake of the game, I hope that Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma finds a reason to scratch Cookie from the lineup March 18th.