Political types like to say you should never let a good crisis go to waste, and it’s a lesson the Pittsburgh Penguins might to do well to learn. They have a mess on their hands named Matt Cooke, and may never get a better opportunity to dump him and all the problems he creates.
Mind you, Pittsburgh won’t have to worry about it at least until the first round of the playoffs end – a potential of 17 games -- because that’s how long Cooke the very stiff suspension handed down by the league for his latest brain-cramped attack on another player’s head will last. And given all the injuries they have, the Penguins will probably be hard pressed to go deeper than that, so the issue could be moot for a while.
But even if the Penguins do manage some sort of playoff run, they will have to think seriously about buying out Cooke after this season ends. It will require paying the veteran a total of $2.4 million over the next four seasons, a price the organization has to be willing to pay given how forcefully owner Mario Lemieux came out against stupidity on the ice a few weeks ago.
Judging from the statement of general manager Ray Shero after the league announced the suspension, it seems like the organization is chomping at the bit to get rid of the headache-causing forward.
“The suspension is warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game,” Shero said. “We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.”
That’s not as easy as it seems for the Penguins, who are still hoping to finish first in the Atlantic Division and at least trying to hold on to the fourth seed in the conference because they are so shorthanded and now lose another player who actually does bring something to the table. Cooke is a grinding forward who can check and kill penalties while chipping in some offense from time to time. But he has become the poster child for recklessness and an embarrassment to an organization that has been pushing to eliminate dangerous behavior from the game.
Cooke has already been forced by the NHL to sit four times in his 12-season career, including once this season for taking out Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin with a hit from behind. That’s the kind of hit the NHL has been desperate to eliminate since Cookie put Marc Savard’s career in jeopardy a year ago with one of them.
Cooke escaped punishment then because there was no rule outlawing blind side hits, but that changed coincidentally a few days later when the GMs met and crafted a new statute to do so. Shero tried unsuccessfully to get his counterparts to go even further and ban all head shots regardless of direction when they met again last week in Florida, but what emerged instead from the GMs was an overwhelming consensus to see punishment for the blind sides made much more severe.
Apparently though Cooke wasn’t paying attention to what everyone else in the hockey world was, and on NBC’s game of the week Sunday, lined up Rangers rookie Ryan McDonough from the blind side before delivering an elbow to his head. It ended up taking about $220,000 in salary out of his pocket and taking the Penguins out of an important game.
In other words, Cooke has become more trouble than he’s worth. The Penguins may even be secretly happy Cooke will be gone down the stretch and for the start of the playoffs and unable to cost them games with dumb penalties. Pittsburgh may not survive the first round anyway with so many key players on the shelf, but if it does, Cooke’s diminishing value should be exposed even more.
Truth is the Penguins really don’t need players like Matt Cooke. No one really does.