NHL lets Cooke off hook

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

The poor, tortured NHL can't seem to ever get it right.

On a day when it should have been celebrated for bringing forth a thought-provoking rule change regarding hits to the head, it instead stomps all over itself by turning a blind eye to the pest named Matt Cooke.

And the powers that be use convoluted logic — difficult to argue, harder to visualize — in explaining how it is they can be strong and weak on the very same day at the very same time.

The new rule, assuming it passes through the competition committee and the board of governors, is forward thinking for a league that too often doesn’t look forward.

But ignoring the damage done by Cooke, the injury to Marc Savard, the obvious cheap shot involved, the ramifications for a Boston team in peril of missing the playoffs having now lost its best player to a multi-time offender, is fruitless, spineless and simply wrong.

“Matt Cooke knew exactly what he was doing ... I can’t believe they’re doing nothing about it,” said Vinny Lecavalier, who not so long ago was just about the best player in hockey.

“He’s (Cooke) been doing this his whole career, hurting guys. This was no accident. They’re protecting the wrong guy, that’s for sure.

“I saw (the hit) three or four times. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly he was going to hit his head. That’s how guys get hurt. He’s got no respect for players.

“And for (NHL) protecting a guy like Matt Cooke, that’s incredible. Definitely it was intent to injure. When you know a guy isn’t looking and you’re coming from the other way, you know you’re going to hit his head, you intend to injure him. They should make a rule out of that and do something about it. It’s happening way too much.”

Next year, Cooke would be suspended for his assault on Savard.

This year, the NHL shrugs its shoulders and says there is nothing to rule on because nothing happened to Mike Richards when he almost ended David Booth’s career.

So nothing happens to Cooke now. Never mind that one has offended more than the other. Never mind that one looked worse on tape than the other. Never mind that in either case, common sense could have prevailed: If it was not illegal to hit to the head yesterday or today, judgment could have been used to find a way to put a stop to this epidemic of injuries now, not later.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli lobbied league disciplinarian Colin Campbell to suspend Cooke based on the fact he’s a repeat offender and said he was upset it didn’t happen.

“I’m both surprised and angered,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said on a conference call. “It’s really disappointing.”

“I hate seeing players pulled off on stretchers, I hate seeing that on TV,” said Rick Tocchet, the Tampa coach, who understands what it is to be both tough and physical at the highest level.

Few players in history hit as often, were hit as often, played the game as rough and tough and skilled as Tocchet did. He admits to being just a little disturbed about what he sees in today’s NHL.

Tocchet believes players should police themselves, but he knows that isn’t happening.

He knows whatever respect there might have been has gone missing as the speed of the game has increased along with the size of the player, the hardness of equipment, all in the same-sized arena, with a growing reckless attitude.

He talked about it with his assistant coach Rick Wilson Wednesday.

“It’s like Rick said, he (Cooke) knew (what) he was doing ... You play this game and you see guys in vulnerable positions. You want to hit the guy. Sometimes you just got to back away.”

The new rule does not outlaw all head shots — the way the NFL does — but it does prevent blindside hits and it puts an onus on offensive players to keep their head up.

It should be a good rule, assuming it passes, assuming it’s called properly, assuming the supplementary discipline is not the usual wishy-washy stuff the NHL is known for.

This could be historical and important.

But somehow today, with Matt Cooke getting nothing, with Savard maybe out for the season, it doesn’t feel historical or important. It feels toothless and irrelevant.


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