With the suspension of Matt Cooke for the remainder of the season and first round of the playoffs, many, including myself, thought the league was serious about eliminating head shots from the game. I haven't heard any Penguins fan defend Matt Cooke's hit on Ryan McDonagh, mainly because the hit was indefensible, and exactly the type of play that needs to be eliminated from the game. After speaking out on the danger of head shots, and why the NHL needs to move beyond them, Mario and Ray Shero told Cooke he has two options: change or get out. Suffice it to say this is more than any other NHL team has ever done when it comes to addressing one of their players after a controversial hit.
The NHL was afforded a golden opportunity last night to demonstrate they aren't inconsistent, misleading, and downright stupid. Todd Bertuzzi provided the league with some fertile suspension soil:
That is a hit to the head. His arm and elbow are raised as he comes in, and he ends up hitting Ryan Johnson so hard that he was unable to continue the play on the ice. Referees stopped play, and trainers came out to check on him. Bertuzzi wasn't simply a careless offender: no player's arm or elbow is raised that high when he is coming in for a hit, unless he intended to have his arms there. In sum, this was an intentional hit to the head. It was dangerous, and no different from the dangerous and reckless hits we've come to know Matt Cooke for.
So what does the league do? Decide that a five minute major and ten minute game misconduct is enough. This isn't an instance where the league should be weary of a heavy penalty because the player in question is a first time offender. Bertuzzi is well known for his disciplinary issues. As an aside, I don't see any logic in the NHL's constant obsession over one's status as a repeat offender. The league has gone on record too many times to count saying it is only concerned with one thing: protecting player's safety. With that in mind, an elbow to the head is no less dangerous because it comes from a player who hasn't done it before. Crosby wasn't hurting any less, and the Penguins weren't less disadvantaged, because David Steckel doesn't have a history of dirty htis. Concussions are concussions, and hits to the head are hits to the head. If the league was serious about enforcing these rules and protecting player's from bad hits, they would stop this buffoonery and punish people severely for hits to the head, regardless of whether they have done this before.
There really is no way to explain this other admitting that s liam was right: Matt Cooke was unfairly targeted as the only "dirty" player in the league, and received a suspension that is disproportionate to the other punishments the league has handed out for similar incidents. This is the same inconsistency we've seen from the NHL for so many years. The only reason Cooke was suspended so long was because he was the flavor of the day; he's had a public year in terms of hits, and it was cliche to use him as the poster boy for all the bad things about the NHL. In other years it might have been Alex Ovechkin, Steve Downey, or Sean Avery. But this year it was Matt Cooke, and he unfortunately drew the part of playing the sacrificial lamb.