Not very often does the NHLPA and the league agree on things. It’s led to two lockouts in the past fifteen years but public enemy no. 1, Matt Cooke, looks like the bridge between the gap. For the first time, in a much publicized event, the PA nodded at the league and quietly accepted their decision to suspend Cooke for the rest of the season and the first round of the playoffs. Matt Cooke has no defenders anymore.
Cooke is no first-timer – he’s a repeat offender who’s effectiveness and skill as a hockey player, like Sean Avery, is overshadowed by his antics. Cooke’s decision to lay out that type of hit was such an absolute bone-headed error in judgment. I have no sympathy for Cooke either, but it was also the worst time to make that kind of hit, amidst suspensions to both Dany Heatley and Brad Marchand and the GM meetings.
When Lemieux criticized the league for not punishing the Islanders’ puke-inducing buffoonery harsh enough, people called him a hypocrite because he’s Cooke’s employer. But Lemieux’s the owner of the Penguins – did you really think he was going to come out and say: “Matt Martin? 4 games? That’s fair! Awesome!” Of course not.
Just because Lemieux criticized the league for letting his opponent get away with a dangerous sucker punch doesn’t means he’s dancing with glee when Cooke gets off easy. He’s not complaining about the league being harsh on his own players, which is usually what GMs and owners whine about (Boudreau on Ovechkin’s 2-gamer), he’s complaining about the league being too lenient on other players. Those who do think about criticizing the league about being too lenient on their opponent stop just short, like Jacques Martin on Zdeno Chara. That his team was on the receiving end of a brawl gave him a chance to speak up. Lemieux collectively spoke the mind of all the GMs. Lemieux’s a good owner and good owners protect their players (case in point, the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban, who famously ran onto the court to stop a fight. God, I wish he buys the Stars – imagine the entertainment value). And we’re faulting Lemieux for that? C’mon, man.
Lemieux’s a good guy – he’s practically a Pittsburgh legend now that he’s got the city three Cup titles (two as a player, another due to Crosby) and saved the Penguins from extinction. I think Lemieux’s changed dramatically from the immature and grumpy 18-year old who refused to wear the Penguins jersey or shake GM Eddie Johnston’s hand when they made him their first overall pick because contract negotiations weren’t going well. He’s never been a dirty player. I don’t think he likes it when Cooke is elbowing guys in the head. But he’s not going to come out and say anything about it either, because believe it or not, Cooke can be an effective hockey player. The Penguins, on most nights, are better with him in the lineup.
But Cooke’s elbow on Ryan McDonagh signaled that enough was enough. Mario Lemieux just couldn’t stomach it anymore. He knew what was going to happen and he silently agreed to agree with whatever sort of decision the league comes up with. He knew the NHL had the golden opportunity to throw the book at Cooke and expected anything but a lenient punishment.
Even if the Penguins made it to the second round, I don’t think the Penguins will dress Cooke. At this point it just isn’t worth it. Cooke’s not a commodity any team will want because the headaches he causes aren’t worth whatever skill or talent he may possess. Matt Cooke is no Dany Heatley – which is why Cooke may have played his last game as a Penguin. It is also why Cooke may have played his last game in the NHL for the foreseeable future.