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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

NHL's suspension of Matt Cooke was long overdue

The league finally imposed sanctions on the Pittsburgh Penguins forward, a repeat offender of hits to the head, but it should have acted much earlier.

March 21, 2011|Helene Elliott
  • Penguins left wing Matt Cooke checks Senators defenseman Andre Benoit during the second period of their NHL game last week.
Penguins left wing Matt Cooke checks Senators defenseman Andre Benoit… (Patrick Doyle / Reuters )

The NHL finally grew a spine.

Suspending Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke for the team's final 10 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs was a long-overdue statement that dangerous, unwarranted blows to the head won't be tolerated.

It's just sad the NHL couldn't muster this righteous indignation before Cooke inflicted a devastating, concussion-causing hit on Boston's Marc Savard a year ago, charged Columbus' Fedor Tyutin in early February to get a four-game suspension and, Sunday, viciously elbowed New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the head.

And if head shots hadn't been a hot topic at last week's general managers' meetings — thanks in part to the concussion that has kept Sidney Crosby out of the Penguins' lineup for 2½ months — who truly believes NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell would have acted so decisively Monday?

Campbell would have been justified to go further and ban Cooke for the entire playoffs. But Campbell could not have imposed anything less than what he imposed Monday.

"Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position," Campbell said in a news release.

"This isn't the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response."

Cooke will lose $219,512.20 based on the number of games in the season (82) instead of the number of days (186) because he's a recent repeat offender.

The pity is that Cooke can play. He's not a one-dimensional goon. But he clearly has no impulse control and since he could not control his impulses, the league did it for him by pulling him off the ice.

Cooke's hit on McDonagh put Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and General Manager Ray Shero in a difficult position.

Lemieux recently sent Commissioner Gary Bettman a letter proposing that teams be fined based on the length of players' suspensions and acknowledged his players' actions would have cost the Penguins $600,000. This caper would have cost more than $1 million. Shero last week voiced support for banning all blows to the head, fully aware his team employs one of the worst offenders.

Lemieux was silent Monday but Shero condemned Cooke's action, rising above self interest and the quaint code that obliges general managers to defend players who commit even the most dastardly of deeds.

"The suspension is warranted because that's exactly the kind of hit we're trying to get out of the game. Head shots have no place in hockey," Shero said in a statement.

"We've told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message."

The Penguins could strengthen it by telling Cooke to stay home if they reach the second round of the playoffs. The next voice we hear should be Lemieux, saying exactly that.

Slap shots

Crosby, who returned to the ice last week, skated Monday and performed stickhandling and shooting drills. There's still no timetable for his return.

The Washington Capitals will give Alexander Ovechkin time off to heal "a nagging ailment," Coach Bruce Boudreau told the team's website Monday. "We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he's fresh come April," Boudreau said.

Ottawa's signing of goalie Craig Anderson to a four-year, $12.75-million contract was a surprise. General Manager Bryan Murray is expected to be gone after this season and he locked his successor into a substantial deal with a goalie who has had one good season as a starter plus a honeymoon (2.11 goals-against, .938 save percentage) in 11 games since he was acquired from Colorado. The prime benefit may be that prize rookie Robin Lehner will get time to develop in the American Hockey League.

Sorry to hear that Vancouver's Manny Malhotra, who required surgery after being struck in the eye by a puck last week, won't return this season no matter how far the Canucks go. He's a good guy who bounced around a lot before becoming a valuable third-line center for the West-leading Canucks. Best wishes for his recovery.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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