Since Zdeno Chara almost decapitated Max Pacioretty a short while ago, the sentiment around the NHL has been that dangerous hits and headshots have no place in the game. Of course, there are still the hard-core fans who love that aspect of the game and with an already shaky fan base; it appears Gary Betman is hesitant to take bone crushing physical play out of the game completely. Instead, it appears the NHL is content to just hand out heavy suspensions for repeat offenders.
The NHL’s disciplinarian Colin Campbell handed down a serious punishment to Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins for his elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers. Matt Cooke is without question the dirtiest player in the NHL and has been for years. The elbow Cooke through to the head of McDonagh was a typical cheap shot that Cooke has become known for around the league.
Campbell suspended Cooke for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, which could add up to around 20 games.
In my opinion, suspensions and fines don’t solve this issue. Players like Matt Cooke make their living on being agitators and playing on the edge. In fact, that is their value as far as other teams are concerned. The truth of the matter is agitators like Matt Cooke help NHL teams win games. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been playing without their superstars Malkin and Crosby for the entire second half of the season and yet they keep on winning and are only a few points back of the conference leading Flyers. Matt Cooke and his gritty play had a lot to do with that.
It’s only a matter of time before another player gets the snot knocked out of him by a hit to the head. Already the league is under pressure from some its major sponsors to reform. Betman and the NHL now find themselves in precarious position of being pressured to change the game before they can fully determine the impact of doing so.