Penguin Needs to be Put on Ice

By Jason Menard

I don’t know if Matt Cooke is a bad man, an exceedingly stupid man, a phenomenally reckless man, or a combination of all three.

All I know is that he’s a man that should be on very thin ice in terms of continuing NHL employment. And that his current employer should be the one to toss him out first before the league’s administrators get to him.

Cooke took out rookie blueliner Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers yesterday with another elbow to the head. Before we progress, let’s take a look at this resume:

  • February 2011 — four games for a hit from behind on Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin;
  • January 2009 – two games for hitting Scott Walker in the head; and
  • November 2008 – two games for checking Artem Anisimov in the head

Let’s not forget that he’s the guy who may have helped to bring Marc Savard’s career to a premature end with a shot to the head just over a year ago.

Playing in the NHL is a privilege. You earn it through talent, but there’s no law that states that talent keeps you there – especially if you can’t respect the very lives of the people around you.

Cooke is, plain and simple, a moron. He doesn’t get it. Even people who advocate the benefits of having those “nasty” players who throw the odd butt end or rabbit punch, can’t defend this scourge.

And the person who should be least willing to defend is his boss, Mario Lemieux.

After all, Lemieux was the guy who sent a very nasty letter to the NHL’s brass saying that if things didn’t clean up in this game, then he might have to pack up his things and get going.

Lemieux is the guy who also pays the salary – and, until recently – shared a roof with superstar Sidney Crosby. The very same Crosby who is still on the shelf after taking a couple of shots to the head, which have served to keep him off the ice since we turned over the calendars.

So how can Super Mario keep turning a blind eye on one of his employees?

Maybe the game of hockey has taken one too many shots to the head itself, because it just can’t seem to see clearly how much damage this type of behaviour is causing. This latest repeat offense comes hot on the heels of the continuing debate over Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty. Fans are starting to question why they’re watching the game – and at this rate, the marquee attractions won’t be on the ice much longer for them to enjoy.

As a business, the decision should be simple. You want to protect your best assets. Crosby draws fans, not Cooke. So the league should come down hard on the goons to protect its attractions. It’s simple economics.

And for Cooke, Mario should fire him and eat whatever salary cap implications may arise. If he doesn’t, he’s tacitly condoning this behaviour, and how does he go about looking his former roomie and current team captain – at least once he gets back on the ice – in the eye?

The league? Give him one more chance – after he sits out the remainder of the NHL season and playoffs, without pay. One more suspendable offense in the future and he’s out of the league. As I said, it’s a privilege to play in the NHL, and if you abuse it, the KHL’s lovely at this time of year – if they’ll take a semi-talented punk cheap-shot artist.

The NHLPA may consider squawking about the length of this suspension, but they’d be wise to swallow their tongues. Cooke is not worth wagging them for, and how can they honestly claim to be working in the best interest of all NHLers when they protect someone who has shown so little regard in allowing them to continue their careers?

From Super Mario to the NHLPA to the league’s office — it’s time to put this penguin on ice.

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