Cooke suspended for rest of regular season, first round of playoffs

The National Hockey League on Monday afternoon issued its sternest warning yet to players who seek to make contact with an opponent’s head.

It has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke for the final 10 games of the regular season plus the entire first round of the playoffs.

Cooke delivered an elbow to the side of the face of New York Rangers
defenseman Ryan McDonagh at the 4:36 mark of the third period of Sunday’s 5-2
Penguins loss. He was given a major for elbowing and a game misconduct.

The total length of the penalty will end up lasting between 14 and 17 games,
depending on how long Pittsburgh’s opening round takes to conclude.

Cooke will forfeit $219,512.20 in salary, based on the number of games in the
season (82), rather than the number of days (186). The funds automatically go
to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

“Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of
an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position,” stated NHL
discipline czar Colin Campbell. “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.”

The chippy winger was suspended  four games  by the NHL without pay back on
February 9 after checking Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind in the early stages of Pittsburgh’s 4-1 loss one day prior, earning him a major for charging and game misconduct.

This is the fifth suspension levied against the 32-year-old in his 11-year
career.

He was previously given a two-game ban in November, 2009 for a hit to
the head of the Rangers’ Artem Anisimov, served a two-game sentence for a
blindside hit to the head of Carolina’s Scott Walker in January of 2009, and
was suspended two games for a spearing incident in 2004 when he played for
Vancouver.

Cooke was infamously spared punishment for a blind-side elbow to the head of
Boston Bruins center Marc Savard a little over a year ago.

Savard suffered a Grade 2 concussion as a result of the hit, and his career is
now in doubt due to post-concussion syndrome. Outcry over that incident was a
significant factor in the NHL’s instituting Rule 48, which states that a
lateral or blind side hit to an opponent’s head is not permitted and draws an
automatic major penalty and game misconduct.

“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
Penguins general manager Ray Shero ina statement issued Monday afternoon.

“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 severaly, and
the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.”

As of Monday, the injury-wracked Penguins are situated in fourth place in the
Eastern Conference with 90 points, six behind the East-leading and Atlantic
Division-leading Flyers.

Already without captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) for an undetermined period, Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery) for the rest of the year, and Mike Comrie (hip surgery) presumably for the remainder of the season, Cooke’s lengthy suspension puts in doubt the ability of the Steel City skaters to shore up playoff position.

Multiple reports emerged earlier Wednesday indicating that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who was outspoken over the conduct of New York Islanders enforcer Trevor Gillies in the wake of a mid-February brawl, had a conversation with Cooke where he was told to either change his game or he will have no place with the Penguins.

For the NHL, this is the longest suspension it has levied against one of its players since New York Rangers forward Chris Simon was given a minimum 25-game ban for brtually cross-checking the face of Islanders counterpart Ryan Hollweg in March of 2007.