By: Casey Shea

After several hours of waiting on pins and needles we finally know Matt Cooke’s fate.

Cooke will be suspended for a minimum of 10 games, should the Penguins fail to make the playoffs, for an elbow to the head of Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

The suspension calls for Cooke to miss the remainder of the regular season (10 games) and the entire first round of the playoffs (minimum of four games, maximum of seven).

Dare I say that the NHL finally got a suspension decision correct?

Prior to the decision there was buzz about how he should get a reduced suspension because Boston’s Zdeno Chara got away with nearly decapitating Max Pacioretty.

How Chara wasn’t suspended is beyond me, but these are two entirely different incidents. Trying to compare them in terms of what Cooke deserved for this hit cannot be done.

This is Cooke’s second suspension in a month, he’s a repeat offender and needs to be reeled in immediately. I’m not in the camp of Penguins fans calling for the team to cut him right now either.

If you want an outrageous comparison, here’s one. How many Steelers fans wanted Ben Roethlisberger cut for his legal issues? How many were calling for James Harrison to be cut for his questionable hits that the NFL fined him for this season?

The truth of the matter is that the Penguins cannot cut him at this point in time. There are playoff teams out there that would easily snatch him up off waivers for their playoff runs. Is it a risk given that he’s out for the first round? Absolutely, but the last thing the Penguins want is to potentially play against Cooke in the playoffs.

Once the season is over, we can reassess this issue. For right now, Cooke should not be going anywhere. Should the Penguins advance to the second round and Cooke were to score a couple big goals, a lot of the scorn toward him would change in an instant. See fan reaction to Roethlisberger for leading the Steelers to the Super Bowl as one example.

By no means am I defending Cooke or his actions. This suspension may be the first one the NHL got right since the rulings on Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley.

I said yesterday that Cooke gave the NHL a reason to employ their new guidelines against head shots in the game. You can’t tell me the league hasn’t had Cooke under a microscope since he put Marc Savard’s career in jeopardy last year. That hit prompted them to implement Rule 48.

So, Sunday’s hit against the Rangers was a double-whammy for Cooke. The NHL was looking for a way to show they’re serious about cutting down on head shots and they were able to make an example of a repeat offender for whom Rule 48 was practically named after.

The NHL released a statement following the decision:

“Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position,” said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations 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.”

It’s a pretty open and shut case here with no gray area.

Not only did his elbow infraction put him in the spotlight, it also put Mario Lemieux and Ray Shero there with him.

Lemieux and Shero have been at the forefront of the charge to rid the league of head shots. The two of them have taken a ton of flak and heat from critics because “the Penguins employ Matt Cooke.” Apparently the critics don’t own mirrors or are turning a blind eye to the team that gets their support. Every team has a Matt Cooke and it doesn’t take long to figure out who they are on each team’s roster.

Shero released a statement in support of the NHL’s ruling:

“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.”

I don’t disagree with one word Shero said. If you want to make an example of someone, there’s probably no better person in the league to do it to than Cooke. You can argue Trevor Gillies all you want, but Cooke’s track record is still longer at this point. Give Gillies a couple years and he could catch up, but the first “bad guy” everyone thinks about is Cooke.

The difference between Gillies and Cooke is that one is a goon and one plays on the edge and crosses the line too often.

When Cooke isn’t taking runs at people, he’s getting underneath the other team’s skin. He’s always good for 15 goals a season and there’s no denying his value as a penalty killer and third line winger.

I can’t say I’ve ever questioned his compete level either. The problem is that he ignores the little voice in his head that says, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t do this.”

There are unconfirmed reports out there that Lemieux took him aside yesterday and had a discussion about getting his act together or he could be on his way out of town.

I know it sounds like I’m harping on fans a little bit much in this situation. However, most of the people who are calling for his release are the same ones that would blame Marc-Andre Fleury for giving up a goal on a 5-on-0, even if he somehow made the first couple saves.

The point in all this is that the Penguins probably won’t just get rid of Cooke for the sake of getting rid of him. In the end, it’s still a business and there are plenty of teams out there that would love to have the Sidney Crosby of agitators on their roster.

Should the Penguins decide that they no longer want anything to do with Cooke, they would most likely do everything in their power to get something in return for him. It could be in the form of draft picks, prospects, etc., but an outright release or buyout after the season will be a last resort.

The only question now is will the NHL suspend the next repeat offender as harshly, or will they drop the ball and give off the appearance that today’s decision was solely because Cooke was involved?

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