I speak for many Penguins fans, but sadly not all, when I say Matt Cooke's time in Pittsburgh should come to an end.
His latest travesty became the breaking point for many of us. According to reporters, some insiders involved with the team are also getting fed up with answering questions about Cooke's actions. Frankly, there just is no defense, especially with co-owner Mario Lemieux's vehement and heated statements in regards to league discipline and player safety. Cooke's behavior and mere presence takes a significant chunk out of Lemieux's credibility on the issue.
For those unaware of the details, Cooke drilled Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh with a blatant, late elbow to the head. McDonagh was in a vulnerable position, likely didn't see Cooke coming and could not brace himself. Fortunately, McDonagh appeared to escape injury and actually ended up setting up the goal that buried the Penguins.
However, we all know concussion symptoms don't necessarily show up immediately. In any case, Cooke was assessed a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.
It's incredibly difficult to believe but Cooke is a very valuable role player. He's an exceptional penalty killer and he is actually capable of delivering legal hits. But he just cannot help himself from stepping over the line. It hurts his bank account, it hurts his team, and oh yeah, it hurts other players.
He has rightfully become a marked man, and losing that benefit of the doubt makes him a target for penalties that aren't actually penalties. Then there are the legit, dumb, inexcusable penalties he takes. Oh, and let's not forget the heinous penalties like the one against McDonagh, a play that even teammates privately said changed the outcome of a game that had been 1-1 with the Penguins in full control. (A double minor to Matt Niskanen during the Cooke major opened the door for the Rangers to score twice.)
Cooke belongs on an NHL roster as much as Islanders goon Trevor Gillies. The only hockey team either one should ever suit up for is the Charlestown Chiefs or the Syracuse Bulldogs. Cooke is not so special a player that he cannot be replaced by any of a dozen other players.
We all know the NHL rarely gets suspensions correct. This is one surely even Colin Campbell can't screw up. It should be at least the rest of the regular season. Perhaps the playoffs too.
After that, I'm more interested in what general manager Ray Shero and Lemieux do. There does not appear to be any immediate plan to jettison Cooke from the payroll but that doesn't mean that won't be a major topic in the summer, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If they continue to employ him, they can both get off their high horse about wanting to clean up the game.
It's ironic that for the first time in his albeit brief history that Shero handed out a three-year contract to a role player and it will come back to bite him. Usually he sticks to two years for grinders like Cooke. I'm willing to bet he's regretting that third year now.
Cooke can be a valuable player. And another team might snatch him up quickly because of that if the Penguins part ways with him. He cannot be a valuable player if he doesn't clean up his act and there is absolutely no evidence that he's willing or capable of doing so. Quite the opposite, in fact. There's no way of defending the hit on McDonagh as a "hockey play" or a hard check that went wrong, or the victim putting himself in a vulnerable position. It was all on Cooke and all a bunch of idiocy and brutality.
It's time for Cooke to become someone else's problem.