Zero? Eight? The 10 remaining games the Pittsburgh Penguins have left in the regular season and the playoffs?
Exactly how long Pens forward Matt Cooke will be suspended for his elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh Sunday afternoon overshadowed a solid day of hockey as all six games on the slate had some sort of playoff implications. Here's a look at the hit in case you missed it.
Cooke, the third rail that he is, will do that to a news cycle.
A look at his checkered past -- which goes well beyond the fact he’s only been forced to sit 10 games during his career -- and there’s no way Cooke can be considered a victim. Still, he picked the worst time in league history to blindside a player, even though McDonagh remained in the game. Cooke received an elbowing major and a game misconduct for the third-period hit.
Pens GM Ray Shero is just a few days removed from advocating a ban on all head hits -- including hits similar to the check that has kept Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby out for more than two months with a concussion -- at the league's general managers meeting. Majority owner Mario Lemieux even offered up a tiered fine system for teams whose players are suspended by the league.
That fact it occurred on national TV where NBC analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire labeled the hit as dirty doesn’t help either.
"I don't think you can talk about eliminating headshots as an organization and not expect that to be examined," coach Dan Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review . "It looks to be contact right to the head. The league will look at that at treat it as such."
The Pens will likely soon get the ”clear and strong message” Lemieux wrote was lacking from the league after the NHL’s response to last month’s fiasco between his team and the New York Islanders.
If just about any other player -- maybe outside of maybe New York Islanders enforcer Trevor Gillies -- delivered the hit, this wouldn’t have lit up Facebook and Twitter like it did. The perceived hypocrisy for a team advocating for more stringent rules governing head hits despite continuing to employ Cooke was just too much for fans and pundits alike not seize upon.
Here’s a quick roundup of opinions:
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal :
If this isn’t a suspension for the rest of the season, then the NHL’s Lord of Discipline, Colin Campbell, is really going soft. Maybe the real message for Cooke, though, would also be a detention for the playoffs, when the games really matter — when Cooke will hurt not only himself but his teammates by his absence in a lineup that is already short-staffed.
TSN’s Darren Dreger :
With the red-alert sensitivity to head hits, especially illegal head hits like the one that earned Cooke a major and game misconduct, it's conceivable the Penguins veteran, a repeat offender with a reputation for delivering cheapshots, could earn a 10-game suspension or more. That's based on league-wide reaction.
Former NHL player Jeremy Roenick :
“I feel bad for Mario. He stuck his neck on the line to clean up dirty plays and his own player again puts him in a tough situation.”
Alec Schall, agent for injured Montreal Canadiens player Max Pacioretty :
“Should NHL rules protect players like Cooke or Crosby? I say let's protect (Cosby) and when we want flying elbows to the head we can watch MMA.”
Mike Brophy of Rogers Sportsnet :
The eyes of the hockey world will be on the NHL's hockey operations department to see how it handles the latest Cooke catastrophe. Anything shy of a major suspension (minimum 10 games) will not be met with support.
“I didn’t see him coming,” McDonagh said of Cooke. “I had no idea. I know it hurt, that’s for sure.”
I don't think you can talk about eliminating headshots as an organization and not expect that to be examined," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It looks to be contact right to the head. The league will look at that at treat it as such.
NY Rangers 5, Pittsburgh 2
New Jersey 3, Columbus 0
Nashville 4, Buffalo3 (OT)
Montreal 8, Minnesota 1
Anaheim 5, Calgary 4 (OT)
Chicago 2, Phoenix 1
-- A.J. Perez
Photo: Getty Images