Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No suspension for Cooke: Pathetically, the NHL gets it right

Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard was a vicious cheapshot. It wasn't a case of "finishing a check", it was an intent to seriously injure a defenseless opponent by targeting his head.

The league announced today that they won't suspend Cooke. They made the right call. And they should be embarrassed by that.

As sickening as Cooke's hit was, he didn't do anything that's against the rules. He didn't leave his feet. It wasn't an elbow. It wasn't a charge. You can watch the replay as many times as your stomach can stand, and you won't see anything illegal. Put simply, there's nothing in the NHL rule book today that says Cooke did anything wrong.

There should be. Even among NHL fans, there seems to be a growing consensus on that point. But right now the league doesn't have a rule against blindsiding a defenseless opponent with a direct hit to the head. If you want to scramble a guy's brains, you can. Just make sure you use your shoulder, and it's case closed.

Was it intent to injure? Sure. But there's nothing in the rule book that says you can't try to hurt someone with a legal hit. Wendel Clark tried to hurt guys with his hits. So did Scott Stevens. So did plenty of guys.

(Update: As commenters point out, there are match penalties for "attempts to injure an opponent in any manner". So it's wrong to say there's nothing in the rulebook on this. That said, I can't remember ever seeing a match penalty called on a hit that didn't violate any other rule.)

Long-time readers know that I'm a Don Cherry acolyte. I love fighting and I'm not embarrassed to say so. And I love hitting, and celebrate it every chance I get. There's room for big hits in this league, even ones that hurt somebody.

But there has to be line, and Cooke crossed it. We know too much about concussions now to celebrate that sort of hit anymore.

Here's the problem: The solution isn't to invent a reason to suspend Cooke. The solution is to fix the rule book. Now.

I don't know about you, but I don't trust this league to start handing out suspensions based on intent. They have enough trouble handing out suspensions for obvious violations -- imagine what they'd do with some room for interpretation. I'd rather see them have clear rules with clear consequences. When it comes to head shots, they don't have that today.

They should. They've had years to get this right. They could have done it last year. In fact, they could have done it this year, effective immediately, if they wanted to (remember when they invented the Avery rule in the middle of a playoff series?). Real leagues, with real leadership, make tough decisions like this all the time. The NHL could have done it too.

They just didn't. That's where the outrage should be. Not that they didn't find a reason to suspend Matt Cooke for a hit that was clean according to the rules; but because they have a set of rules that actually allow blindside hits aimed directly to the head in the first place.

The league got it right this time. Let's hope that next year, when somebody throws the same hit, they get it right again: with a double-digit suspension.


  1. The pathetic thing is that there is a rule. It is called intent to injure, and carries a major penalty. For however you attempt to do it, there is a major penalty. If Cooke gets the book thrown at him next year, (because you know he will do it again), hopefully they will have a 'rule' by that time.
    The scary thing is, don't you give guys a kind-of, free-for-all for the remainder of the season on head hits in this manner?

  2. There should be much worse consequences to actually stop or eliminate these guys. First one is a month suspension, next is lifetime suspension

  3. "Not that they didn't find a reason to suspend Matt Cooke for a hit that was clean according to the rules; but because they have a set of rules that actually allow blindside hits aimed directly to the head in the first place."

    Perfectly said. Wholeheartedly agree.

  4. " was an intent to seriously injure..."

    "...he didn't do anything that's against the rules..."

    I disagree. If we are in agreement that it's clearly an attempt to injure, then it *is* against the rules, and it was deserving of a match penalty, regardless of precedent.

  5. I find it hard to think that they will give out a double digit suspension the first time one of these hits occurs. They won't make a jump from 0 to 10 unless the player has a history. I'm still on the fence of the whole rule change, only the wording though. They just need to set a better explination for a "blindside". If a player is skating like Lindros and gets hit, is he not being "blindsided", if a player is admiring his pass and gets clocked, is he being blindsided. It's a dangerous slope, the NHL just needs to know how far to go down.

  6. Apparently your stomach couldn't handle watching the video enough to see that it would have been a shoulder-to-shoulder hit if Savard's momentum from the shot didn't turn his body. Not saying it's Savard's fault, but don't blame Cooke just because he's Cooke.

  7. Hypothetical question.

    Same hit but Matt Cooke is played by Mark Bell and Marc Savard by Daniel Alfredsson.

    Do you make this post?

    I enjoyed the Bell/Alfredsson hit so much i'm having a hard time joining in on the hysteria.

  8. @Reever...

    The league didn't create a free-for-all. It's already a free-for-all, and has been for years.


    Good point. I've updated the post. Still, can you ever remember seeing a match penalty called on an otherwise "clean" hit?


    It all depends on how serious they want to get. Brad May had never been suspended in his ten-year career, but he got 20 games for a slash to the head.

  9. I agree one hundred percent. What Cooke did should be a suspend-able offense. This is coming from a die-hard Pens fan who actually likes Matt Cooke and what he does for this team. And also, forget the whole player having a history argument. There should be rules that have specific consequences that make Colin Campbell obsolete. A monkey should be able to look at a list that says if a player does illegal thing A then he gets suspension B. If I kill someone in real life, they aren't going to say, "Well this was the first time." They're gonna give me a lethal injection.

  10. Even if Cooke does get suspended for 5 or more, the penguins could not care less. Its not like they lose a valuable asset. Cooke is an agitator, the pens could live without him. If the league is serious about taking this type of thing out of the game they need to get creative; longer suspensions just don't do it.Just a few things:
    -Longer penalties(10 minutes shorthanded)
    -Take of a star player to serve miconducts
    Instead of punishing the agitator or goon punish the team. If teams are repeatedly put at a huge disadvantage they will take out their dirty players.

  11. @bloge...

    This hit was different from Bell/Alfredsson, and even from the Richards/Booth hit that everyone else seems to want to compare it to. Those were blindsides, no question. But Cooke went directly after Savard's head. He didn't make contact with anything but head.

    There's a spectrum here that includes other hits, but Cooke is at the extreme end of it.

  12. I respectively disagree with you.

    The only difference between those two hits is the camera angle.

  13. Oops...that should say "respectfully disagree with you"

  14. @DGB

    You're right, I cannot remember any such instance. That it doesn't get called is, in my opinion, a misapplication of the rules.

  15. Whatever happened to the hip check?

  16. He hit him directly in the head, I dont care what body part he used to do it. Hes a dirty player and I think that they should have penalized him. They found a way to penalize Lucic last year and that was nothing compared to this. Sickening that Cooke gets away with nothing.

  17. The thing that I don't get is the reason why they don't create a rule right away!! I mean, theres nobody who actually wins with this kind of hit. The fans don't like it, the GMs lose players and the players get hurt....
    It's a simple rule "don't aim for the head" and it will be over...

  18. But now how can Roenick make Gretzky's head bleed?

  19. Also, Anonymous 5:22 -

    Hip-checks have died, and will remain dead, because anytime someone attempts one people shit a brick and cry "low-bridge!!! dirty!!! GAHASFAIS!" despite it being a run-of-the-mill hip-check.

    Unfortunately, this will probably be the same consequence of a headshot rule.

  20. Your blog used to be funny. Now it's like I'm reading Yahoo Sports.

  21. Rugby has a blanket rule against dangerous tackles. I see no reason why the NHL can't have a similar rule against dangerous hit.

  22. Unfortunately despite a history of intent to injure the NHL has decided not to suspend Cooke because apparently decapitation by shoulder isn't in the rule book.
    I for one would like to see the NHL finally take a stand against headshots before someone gets killed. The NFL is rarely a good model but at least there they are trying to rid the game of dangerous hits.
    I think that today's announcement of a blindside penalty is a step in the right direction I also think that the punishment to b implemented is a little limp wristed.
    I would like to see an automatic 2 game suspension for any attempted hit directly to the head whether with a shoulder, elbow or anything else. Any such hit should also be reviewable by the league and subject to further penalty. Any 2nd infraction would then become a minimum 10 game suspension and any 3rd would result in a suspension for the season and playoffs that year. As an added incentive to reduce the risk to players I would advocate that while the player is suspended that team forfeits his roster spot while he serves the suspension and full salary still counts against the cap.
    The players have shown that they can't police themselves when it comes to these infractions so I think a little heavy-handedness is in order.
    With strict enforcement I think you would eliminate all head shots within a short period

  23. There is no rule saying you can't ram a players head repeatedly against the ice, shove your knee in a player's throat while he's lying on the ice, hip check someone's head into the boards if he's on his knees.

    Despite being no rule against those, I believe a player doing any of that would indeed be suspended. Hence Campbell's argument is baseless.

  24. ha ha...ha?
    Actually though, the book should be thrown at cooke. Right at his head, giving him the same degree concussion suffered by Savard. A brain hemorrhage for a brain hemorrhage, I always say.

  25. I definitely agree that Cooke should've been suspended; there's no place for hits like that in the game and I think its sickening to consider how many kids will see that and say "well if he can do that and get away with it maybe I can too"! As someone who referee's minor hockey I find it amazing how much these kids want to emulate their favourite players; an incident like this is just teaching them that its ok to be a dirty player because you won't get punished.

    Hockey Canada implemented a checking to the head penalty a few years ago, and for the most part I feel it has had a positive influence on the game. At the very least I've noticed players are become more responsible about how they follow through with a hit and where they make contact. A minor penalty for checking to the head comes with a 10 minute misconduct, while a major penalty automatically bumps that up the a game misconduct. You can also call a match penalty if it was an attempt to injure based on your discretion. I don't know how you think this would work in the NHL... maybe implement something along these lines for in-game penalties as well as have the option of extra suspensions being assessed based on the incident?

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but this is something that I feel strongly about. As a former player who was forced to give up competitive hockey because of concussion problems, I hope we can get to a point where no one is forced to give up the game because of a careless and irresponsible play.


    I agree with the Avery reference, why not implement it right the fuck now? And forget the "minor/at the discretion of the referee major" bullshit and go with something that will actually make someone think twice: a minor+10 misconduct or a 5+GM

  27. I really liked Wyshynski's idea of an automatic 5-minute major and game misconduct for a hit to the head with an automatic 1 game suspension and a review to determine whether further punishment is needed (that last part was mine, but you get the idea).

  28. I personally don't like the rule change...I think you will have the league suspending some guys for throwing vicious, albeit, clean body checks and hurting guys, kind of like Wendel's hit on Bell. I don't like that they are putting all the onus on the guy throwing the check while the other guy pulls a McAmmond, (skating around with his chin stapled to his chest), has no responsibility.

    I would prefer to go back to old way these things used to be taken care of, and we all know what that means...get rid of the instigator penalty, get rid of the last five minute rule. If Cooke recieved a beat down from a Shawn Thornton or a Chara every time he set foot on the ice, or worse yet, Matt Cooke would know that his cheap shot on an opponent's star player could have ramifications for Crosby or Malkin, he might show a little more respect out there.

    And I agree with Bloge, there is no difference between the Cooke hit and the Richards hit...

  29. Hi, commenting from Finland where there is such rules that prohibit blindsided hits. The downside is that every hard check is nowadays penalized, doesn't matter if it's clean or not, and the evolution to this has been step by step, and I fear that this is what will happen in NHL. Of course I loathe blindsided hits like any sane person, but finnish hockey league at the moment is a great example how strict rules can ruin the contacts in the game. Hopefully this won't happen in the NHL.

    And like someone said, it's quite interesting that you select out Matt Cooke, and stay quiet about Mark Bell's hit on Alfredsson, hiding behind the fact that he hit other parts of his body than his head. It was a head shot, plain and simple. It seems someone is a bit colorblind when it comes to headshots :)

    In other news, your blog used to funny, not so much anymore. Like reading the

  30. "but because they have a set of rules that actually allow blindside hits aimed directly to the head in the first place."

    Thing is tho that its the players who exploit that ruleset and sadly big bad Zenon Konopka (or any other fighter) doesnt serve as a "threat" anymore. Its a rat´s game these days in many ways.

    There is something that has happened for players and their sense of "honoring your opponent".
    I would like to know what that is and what has caused this developement.

    I think that certain "cheapshots" are fine, it should be a world of hurt out there especially in playoffs, but when it goes to _serious_ injuries, like concussions or knee hits, its simply too much.

    Now i ask when did the players vision of the game blur so much they have no brains out there anymore ? or is this also becouse the concussions ;) ?

  31. Although the guys on Versus are generally better for a laugh than for hockey insight, I really liked an idea they threw out there. First, you obviously need to have long suspensions for these type of hits. Second - and this is the clever part - don't allow the team to replace that player for the duration of the suspension.

    I love the idea of making the whole team suffer. As is the ownership has a "heart to heart" with the offending player and says that he's "really, really sorry" and that's it. Make your team dress 19 skaters for 10 games and I think that heart to heart will have a slightly different tone.

  32. Actually, Mike Richards did get tossed from the game for his hit because of the severity of injury to the other player. He got like 18 minutes and a match penalty. The refs weren't watching when Cooke leveled the hit. The penalty can't be levied after the fact, or after the game. If the refs arm doesn't come up, there is no penalty. Refs blew the call, not the NHL. No suspension is right, the only thing that could have been done is the penalties, and the refs decided against it for whatever reason.

    Match penalty does not equal suspension either, as we saw in the Richards hit.

  33. Anyone who thinks rules will eliminate hitting should watch the Olympics again. IIHF rules are much tougher than the NHLs, and there were few dirty hits--but plenty of clean ones.

    The major problem, as Cherry says, is the lack of respect. Repealing the instigator rule would help. It would also sell tickets. But that's not going to happen any time soon.

    My suggestion is: if you injure a player with a deliberate illegal hit, as long as he can't play, you can't play--whether it's a period, a game or life. That would bring respect back very quickly.

    As for "pussification"-- a concussion equals permanent brain damage. Offered a choice between that and getting called a pussy, I'll take the Meow Mix every time.

  34. One really minor thing... the book doesn't say intent to injure, it says attempt... and it should be called more often at the pro level. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Bertuzzi.

  35. "But right now the league doesn't have a rule against blindsiding a defenseless opponent with a direct hit to the head."

    Actually it does. It's called "checking from behind". Read the text for the penalty, you'll see it's almost identical to the "head shot" penalty suggested by the NHL. The fact of the matter is that this is yet another case of the NHL failing to enforce its own rules- only once the NHL understands that's the *real* solution are we actually going to see some real results on this problem.