The Perfect Time to Set An Example
Now that Matt Cooke has sinned yet again, there are three actors that should have a role to play in his punishment.
First, there is the NHL, which must act to protect the game, Ryan McDonagh and the rest of the league.
Second, there is the NHLPA, which must act to protect the interests of both McDonagh and Cooke, and not just Cooke, as the union has usually done. You might also dream of a hockey world in which the NHLPA would have a thought for the sport at large, something beyond itself and the millionaires it represents, but that might be hoping for a bit much at this time.
Thirdly, there is the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise. Well, the franchise and Mario Lemieux, which is pretty much the same thing. Lemieux claimed the moral high ground last month, complaining to the Bettman administration in a very, very public way that goonery and headshots and all forms of hockey violence were not being treated with appropriate harshness.
Hypocrite, many cried, pointing to the fact that Cooke, arguably the best known cheap shot artist in the sport, plays for the Penguins.
So now the Pens are in a bit of a spot, aren't they? If they do nothing, they forfeit that high ground, and Lemieux loses the legitimacy to speak that he has earned through his brilliant playing career and tireless efforts to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
If this latest incident is to make any kind of a positive impact, the suspension to Cooke should be harsh and long. He simply doesn't give a care for the health and well-being of his fellow players, and has demonstrated that time and time again even though he is regarded as a good teammate.
So the NHL must deliver a stiff penalty commensurate with its supposedly hardened attitute against the type of head shot Cooke delivered upon McDonagh on Sunday. Ten games is where you start, but might be unrealistic, given the NHL's lenient way of looking at these matters, particularly given that McDonagh stayed in the game.
Either way, Lemieux and the Pens can make their own statement. They could suspend Cooke for a game or two or more in addition to whatever the league. does. "Conduct detrimental to the team" could be the broad area that would cover such an incident and team-issued penalty.
Finally, the union needs to go along with whatever the league and the team decides. it could grieve or fight, but if Don Fehr does, he should do so knowing that like steroids in baseball, he would be going against the grain of what the hockey public believes is right and not right with the game.
None of this may happen this way, other than a certain league suspension. It may all be a fanciful way of imaging the way in which thoughtful people who truly believe in the game of hockey and understand its vulnerabilities could behave, rather than in simple self-interest. Pens GM Ray Shero spoke eloguently in favour of a blanket ban on head shots last week, and now he has a player under contract who obviously cares not a whit for the concussion concerns of the broader industry.
Imagine a response to this incident in which the league, team and union all acted in concert with the same broad goal in mind.
A guy can dream, can't he?