As I predicted yesterday, the Penguins will be without the services of Matt Cooke for the foreseeable future. What I didn’t envision, however, was that he would be banned for a playoff series. Not that Cooke didn’t deserve it and not because this wasn’t the right call, but I just didn’t see it coming.
The NHL suspended Cooke for the final 10 games of the season and the first round of the playoffs. This was a harsh sentence – rightly so, but harsh nonetheless. Cooke’s repeat-offender status and the nature of this particular hit (a blatant blindside elbow to the head) did him no favors. If in fact the league was sending a message with this ruling, I say mission accomplished. Anything more than 10 games is a major suspension. I’m not sure this hit warranted such a ban, but there’s no way anybody can argue against it considering the culprit. This suspension might even satisfy the Cooke/Pens haters out there.
There’s no doubt Cooke’s absence will hurt the Penguins. Despite his dirty antics, #24 is a vital cog in the team’s top-ranked penalty kill. He was also on pace for his best offensive season (12-18=30) in Pittsburgh. He is an important player for this team. But Cooke brought this on himself, and now the Pens will have to deal with his absence much like they did when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went down with injuries.
Another thing to think about is how the team, coaches and management now feel about Cooke. He already cost them a game, and now he’s hurting their chances in the playoffs. Considering the organization’s stance on hits to the head, this was really not a good play by Cooke. I’m not suggesting the Pens get rid of him, but a serious conversation is probably necessary.