When the Penguins and Senators play tonight, something bad might happen.
Or it might not.
What is undeniable is this: If something happens to a Penguins player as a result of some thuggery, some hooliganism carried out by a Senators player — your safest bet would be Chris Neil — the blood will be on the hands of Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk.
Lots of blood. Almost all the blood.
It shouldn’t work that way; not in any sport.
But the National Hockey League let this guy get away with, pretty much, putting a bounty on Penguins winger Matt Cooke.
And the NHL should feel a ton of shame that it let the situation spiral out of control, that it stood by and let an owner act this repugnant.
Let’s take this step-by-step …
In a game on Feb. 13 here in Pittsburgh, Cooke’s skate sliced the Achilles of standout Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has yet to play as a result of the injury.
From this point of view, the play was a bit clumsy by Cooke but — even with his questionable past — showed absolutely, positively no malice or intent. It was, indeed, an unfortunate accident.
The consensus around hockey, in the opinions asked of many after the play, echoed that very sentiment.
The Senators vehemently disagreed with such a belief.
That’s one thing. To have an opposing opinion is more than fine. But what Melnyk said in the aftermath was intolerable.
In an interview with TSN, the Senators owner said, of Cooke:
“He’s done it to us; he’s done it to others. If he thinks it’s cool to be the tough goon, then that’s his business, but people aren’t going to put up with him. We’re certainly not going to put up with him. … He’s on a watch list now. Everybody should know it. You certainly don’t belong in this league, and the faster you’re gone, the better.”
Melnyk (probably in between sessions of feeding his pet unicorn and playing with gnomes and elves) went on to make the outlandish claim to Toronto’s Fan 590 radio station that he was commissioning “forensic doctors” to prove that Cooke’s actions were on purpose.
Melnyk’s findings — or whether or not he found the real killers in the O.J. Simpson case — have yet to be disclosed.
In all seriousness, some of Melnyk’s words were downright preposterous and merited punishment, immediately, from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
The following quote by Melnyk reads, to me at least, as bordering on a bounty: “… but people aren’t going to put up with him. We’re certainly not going to put up with him.”
How can anyone see it as any other way?
Or how about when Melnyk said, “the faster you’re gone, the better” of Cooke?
Think about it from this angle — in whatever line of work you’re in, the fastest way to earn praise and, in turn, a promotion and/or more money is to impress the boss.
If Melnyk (the ultimate boss of the Senators) is on record here as saying that the faster Cooke is gone, the better, what healthier way is there to curry favor with the big man than to, well, make Matt Cooke “gone.”
Think about that for a moment. The dots connect.
The Ottawa player who would do that, the Senators player who would run Cooke out of the league, would have a special place in Melnyk’s heart forever. This isn’t a guess, he’s said as much. He’s said that the faster Cooke is gone, the better.
It’s one thing for some ultra-rich man to pop off, to flap his gums because his riches make him feel infallible. That sort of thing happens all the time.
But to do it and have it border on a bounty out for Matt Cooke?
That shouldn’t be tolerated.
The NHL, however, stood by and did zero when Melnyk made the ludicrous statements.
If something does happen tonight, the league will be forced to act.
The shame in all of this, is that the NHL should have acted already.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. -2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.