What happens next will determine if Monday was a great day in hockey history.
But it has a chance to be.
Now things can change. And the great irony could end up being that Matt Cooke, in all his idiocy, could go down in history as the man who inspired change in the game.
Cooke was the perfect player in the perfect place at the perfect time, making the perfectly idiotic play which fit his history of serial stupidity which allowed Colin Campbell to act like Clarence Campbell, and dish out a suspension not unlike the one which caused the Rocket Richard Riot in Montreal in 1955.
Except there was no riot. There was riotous applause around the land and the entire hockey world. And it’s that reaction which should tell the NHL it can’t go back to two-game suspensions for Dany Heatley and no suspension at all for Zdeno Chara.
Cooke was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs for his elbow to the head of the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh — a suspension of 14 to 17 games.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1955, Richard was suspended for the remainder of the season plus playoffs.
Richard, of course, was a superstar, the Sidney Crosby of his day, if you will. Crosby is out with a concussion while his low-talent teammate continued to run around without control or respect, the very week NHL general managers recommended coming down hard with supplementary discipline for violence directed at the head.
Off previous decisions, many expected Cooke would receive about six games.
When the decision came down there was a “Wow, they actually did it!” response bordering on disbelief.
“Mr Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position,” said Campbell, vice-president of hockey operations, of the fifth suspension he’s issued Cooke.
“This isn’t the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behaviour on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response.”
It was the reaction from his own organization which increased the applause.
“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,” said Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero.
“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,” he said.
Cooke was dealt a mere four-game suspension, despite his history, for a hit from behind to Columbus Blue Jackets Fedor Tyutin in February.
Two previous head shots and a spear all received two-game suspensions.
Cooke also delivered the blindside blow to Boston Bruins center Marc Savard that caused his concussion, but he wasn’t suspended for that hit because it was legal by interpretation at the time.
It could have been a greater day in hockey history, of course, if Penguins owner Mario Lemieux had offered a statement similar to that of his GM about a player who has caused him so much embarrassment.
Lemieux ended up subject to more criticism and ridicule than his player when he came out with strong comments about the lack of respect and the increased number of head shots, while still signing the pay cheques of the poster boy of the problem, the Penguins recently signing Cooke to a $5.4-million deal.
The suspension will cost Cooke $219,512.20 in lost salary.
The silence of the NHLPA also didn’t go by without notice yesterday.
But not all the players kept their silence.
Oilers Ryan Whitney, for example, offered his response on Twitter: “Nice to see the NHL come through with that suspension. Enough is enough with that guy.”
The trouble here, however, could be viewing this as all about Matt Cooke.
If some player with no history as a serial cranium cracker is guilty of the same crime next week and only gets a two-game suspension, Monday will represent something significantly less than a great day in hockey history.
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