Selasa, 22 Maret 2011
On Our Soapbox: Matt Cooke, Head Shots And Suspensions
Everyone knows by now about the Matt Cooke blatant elbow on Ryan McDonagh that caused the Penguins the game and his subsequent suspension for all of eternity.
What everyone doesn't know is the anger most Penguins fans feel at his action. It was uncalled for, unnecessary and out of nowhere. The Pens fans that we talked to were outraged at what he did and were ashamed that he was on our team.
Now, we know that we have never really taken a stance on Matt Cooke and his penchant for playing "dirty" (because we don't really like confrontation) but this latest elbow to the head angered us enough to blog about it.
We are not going the route of the majority of bloggers out there and completely villainize Matt Cooke and his entire career. We are giving our opinion on a good player who has his moments when we are ashamed of what he has done.
Our issue with the elbow Cooke laid on McDonagh is not the action itself (although it is awful), it lies more in the circumstances surrounding the action.
The game is tied 1-1. There is really nothing of note going on between the two teams, nothing really physical or menacing. Both teams are playing hard and then Matt Cooke comes in and does this.
On national television no less. The Penguins lose the game and the precious two points while also putting the entire team in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Most hockey fans hate the Penguins to begin with because of Sidney Crosby so this just gave them more fuel.
There is no reason for the hit, which looked to be intentional. (There's never a real, rational reason for a headshot but you know what we mean.) Cooke comes in with an elbow and just hits McDonagh. It didn't look to be too hard of a hit but neither did the Victor Hedman hit on Sidney Crosby (which was more of a hit from behind than a headshot although the two terms can be linked together).
This headshot comes at a time when the owner of the Penguins and savior of the organization, Mario Lemieux, is becoming extremely vocal about figuring out ways to eliminate hits to the head like that one. He proposed a system that would fine NHL teams for suspensions and the monetary punishment would be based on the time of the suspension.
Makes sense, make everyone pay for a player's actions and it will diminish the times that a player would go for a suspension-worthy play and it will also heap responsibility onto the coaches, executives and the players themselves.
The first time that a player gets suspended with this system in place won't be such a big deal but when they're suspended again, then that's a different issue when the fines are doubled. We guarantee that the team as a whole will do something about this player.
We think it is highly appropriate then that one of his 'employees' gives the NHL an example, a poster boy of sorts for this kind of headshot that Lemieux is trying to eliminate. Matt Cooke's face is fast becoming the player that every fan of the NHL knows plays dirty.
Everyone knows that Don Cherry thinks that way.
Don Cherry was on a Boston radio station today talking about the Matt Coke hit (more on that later in our rant.) But here is a quote from the interview, "They should've given him 20 to 30 games back then and it might've straightened the little rat out" kind of got our brains going. So with this line of reasoning, 20 to 30 games for Cooke for the Savard hit would have prevented his hit from behind on Fedor Tyutin this year. And then the McDonagh elbow from Sunday. That's basically what Cherry is saying.
So if we follow that then when Trevor Gillies was suspended in February for nine games for his hit to the head of Eric Tangradi, he should have learned his lesson (slap on the wrist) and never hit someone again. But he didn't and he boarded Cal Clutterbuck two games after returning to the lineup. And for that he received a ten-gamer.
Repeat offender. They should develop a Megan's Law for these offenders. Like a list of their names so that the NHL disciplinary board will be sure to punish accordingly.
So, guess his next suspension will be in the 15-20 game range because he's a repeat offender. Maybe that will teach him a lesson. But we're betting not.
What about the hit from behind on Patrice Bergeron by Randy Jones in 2007?
Bergeron was out for the rest of the season with a Grade 3 concussion and returned for the 2008-2009 season. Randy Jones was suspended for two games. We don't think that a player should be out the whole time that the player they injured is (that's quite childish and hard to calculate) but no matter if they're a repeat offender or not, a "dirty hit" is a dirty hit and they should be punished as severely as a dirty hit should be. If Steve Downie was suspended for 20 games for a hit to the head then a vicious boarding hit should be punished in a harsher manner than just two games. (When it happened in 2007, we were betting on ten games and were surprised it wasn't more.)
In the Burnside article here, this quote stood out to us. "A pair of 20-game suspensions left no impression on the organization. Making Jones sit out a pair of games likely won't leave a dent in their psyche, either." It's sad but ultimately true.
And you can't forget about our favorite Flyer (if we were forced to choose because we kinda do really like him as a player, sometimes) Mike Richards and his blindside hit on David Booth last season.
That is an illegal hit. That should have been a suspension of a few games. It was a vicious hit. It was unnecessary and looked borderline headhunting. But he wasn't suspended even though it was definitely a suspension-worthy hit.
They said there was no "intent to injure" and that was why he was not suspended. One of our pet peeves is that term because who really knows if there's intent unless you have a wiretap into a player's brain. And that is science fiction stuff. No one knows if there's "intent to injure" and who cares? If it is an illegal hit, whether intentional or not, who cares? It should be punished like every other illegal hit. There should be fines, suspensions and whatever else they can think of. A player should know his surroundings and what he is doing at all times, he should know if he's coming in too fast with an elbow up. He should be aware of the fact that a player's last name is facing him when he goes in for the hit. If he isn't aware then punish him. It's that easy. Players will respond and they will be aware.
We have never claimed to be Flyers fans, as you know, but we know when our biases cloud our judgment. And the Richards hit on Booth was not clouded at all. If that was Matt Cooke, we would be calling for a suspension. And the fact of the matter is, he would have been suspended. You cannot say that we are lying about that. And ask yourself why, if it was the same exact situation except with Cooke instead of Richards, Cooke would have been suspended and Richards was not?
Why is it that the Flyers organization was not under scrutiny after employing three, not one or two but three players who had no regard for the safety of the players they were playing against? But the Penguins organization is under fire for having Matt Cooke on their team. Is it because their owner is not Mario Lemieux and is not advocating for a change in how the league polices headshots and suspensions? Is it because they think that Matt Cooke is that much of a danger to those around him? These are honest questions that if we had the answer to, we would be Gary Bettman (or God).
(BTW, this is the team that in one month had three players already suspended for illegal and dirty hits. "Steve Downie was suspended 20 games after a hit to Ottawa forward Dean McAmmond's head in an exhibition game. Then on Oct. 10 in Vancouver, Jesse Boulerice cross-checked Ryan Kesler in the mouth, resulting in a 25-game suspension.")
And for some reason, it seems to us as though Mr. Cherry is blaming the Pittsburgh Penguins organization for the actions of one of its members. This is the gist of what he said in the previous clip: "Mario Lemieux, one of the biggest phonies I've ever seen, he comes up and what does he do? He says, 'We have to get rid of head shots,'" Cherry said. "And the [CEO/president], Dave Morehouse, 'We have to get rid of head shots.' And then [general manager] Ray Shero, who I really like, says the same thing. ... And what happens? They got the head-shot guy of all time, paying his paycheck. What a bunch of hypocrites." Sounds like blame to us.
We don't blame the Penguins organization for Matt Cooke's actions. We blame Matt Cooke for his actions. Does Don Cherry really think that Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma look at Cooke and say, "Oh, you're fine, don't change anything about the way that you play. That was't a headshot, his head was down anyway."
We guarantee that they do not. Ray had some strong words for his own player, 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. 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 severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.
They know the type of person that Cooke is and they know how he plays, they're not oblivious. You can tell a child forty-five times not to touch the cookie jar and they will touch it everytime. It's when the punishments get severe is when the kid listens. (Yes, we just compared Cooke to a child, it wasn't that far of a stretch on most days.)
It is not the Penguins fault that Matt Cooke does not understand that dirty plays will be punished. And severely. (We personally think he gets it this time.) If you say that they shouldn't employ him if they believe in this so strongly then go ahead, say it. We can't change your mind. But remember that Todd Bertuzzi is still employed. And so is Steve Downie. And Dan Carcillo. And Trevor Gillies (who still makes us cringe because he never learned his lesson).
If it takes a player to be a repeat offender and suspended for ten games and the first round of the playoffs to get this lesson then there needs to be a harsher punishment than just suspension. We cannot wait around for Carcillo and Downie and Gillies to add to their list of suspensions until 20 to 30 is all that's left. As fans, we cannot keep losing good players (like Booth, Savard and Crosby) to concussions.
And then there's the blight of Alex Ovechkin and his suspension(s) of last season. He was in the wrong both times and he was punished for it. But both were two gamers, nothing too serious. If the NHL wanted to 'teach him a lesson' then shouldn't the second suspension have been upped a little, like to say four games? Then maybe he would have gotten the memo (which we kinda think he did, it's either that or he just doesn't get caught now.) He paid the price for being dangerous and reckless with other players on the ice. Unlike in the playoffs the year before when he hit Sergei Gonchar knee-on-knee and injured the defenseman.
There was no subsequent punishment and he got away with one.
It's the inconsistencies and lack of explanation or set rules that the NHL disciplinary arm follows that frustrates fans the most. If the punishments were consistent and the crimes were punished then we would not be having this soapbox rant. Maybe Matt Cooke wouldn't have elbowed Ryan McDonagh in a tied game. Maybe Trevor Gillies wouldn't be suspended for ten more games in a row. This Scott Burnside article basically explains what we tried to here.
Back to Mr. Cooke.
Call us naive but we believe in the good of Matt Cooke. Do we believe the good outweighs the bad? We did, now, we're kind of up in the air about it. Matt Cooke as a hockey player is one of our favorites. He plays hard, he doesn't quit and he's a team guy. But when he does stuff like this, we understand why so many people do not like him. In Vancouver, Matt Cooke was a different player. In Washington, he was different. We like to think that under Dan Bylsma, Cooke was a different and better player because he understood the system and he grew up a little.
And we think that the Penguins think the same way (maybe up until this incident, though). They want to give Cooke a second chance because they know that he is a good person and a good player and is mostly beneficial to the team. There is a reason that Shero signed him to a contract and didn't let him go. We have faith in Ray that he wouldn't do something that he didn't think was right. But maybe after this incident the bad does outweigh the good and Cooke will not be in a Penguins uniform next season.
That we don't know. Yet.
We do not agree with any kind of injuries to players because we love the game too much. We may joke or threaten players from our living room but seeing a player lying motionless on the ice after a hit that was blindside, from behind, an elbow or a headshot is not what we want our NHL to be about.
Hockey is important to us as is the institution it is based on. Players like Matt Cooke, who defy what we think is right, make us question the NHL. There are players like Mike Richards who (we swear that if he wasn't a captain and didn't have a pretty good scoring touch would be a Cooke) play on the edge and are 'dirty' sometimes and they get a slap on the wrist. And there is Todd Bertuzzi who should not be employed by any team in the NHL. For all of eternity. It is those kinds of situations that make us question the disciplinary system in the NHL.
We like Matt Cooke as a Penguin but at the same time, it is frustrating. He does things that we do not agree with but he has his good moments. It's almost like an abusive relationship (although not to that extreme) and you have to know when it is time to just pack up and leave their sorry ass behind.
Thanks for reading our soapbox rant. Let us know what you think either in an email or a comment.