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Matt Cooke’s despicable dirty elbow puts Mario Lemieux and NHL on the hot seat

Mar 20, 2011, 5:11 PM EDT

65122_matt_cooke AP

It seems that lately not a week goes by without some debate or outrage over a hit. In the last year, the name that comes up more often than not is Matt Cooke. Once again, Cooke delivered a very blatant and dirty hit, this time to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Cooke’s hit put the Penguins down a man for five minutes as he was ejected for the blow. During the course of the major penalty, the Pens were able to score once shorthanded but allowed two goals to swing the game in their favor.

This time around, his chicken-wing elbow to the back of McDonagh’s head comes during a high-profile game just days after the NHL’s general managers met in Florida to figure out what to do about further reducing blows to the head. Thankfully McDonagh wasn’t injured on the play, that’s the good news. The bad news is that Matt Cooke is continued to terrorize opponents on the ice with his brand of hockey. When not delivering cheap shots, Cooke is an excellent checking forward but today’s incident against the Rangers proves that he just doesn’t get it and the guy that’s going to have his hands full in dealing with him is Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.

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After the Islanders-Penguins brawl in Long Island, Lemieux lambasted the league for not doing enough to protect its players. Lemieux was torn to shreds for his statements for his seeming ignorance that he employs a cheap shot artist of his own. Lemieux then later wrote a letter to Gary Bettman coming up with some very progressive ideas on how to improve punishment for dirty hits including fining teams large sums of money for keeping those players employed under their watch. In that letter, Lemieux owned up to the players of that ilk they have on their team, a nod to those critical of his first statement.

Now all those who clamored for Lemieux to recognize that his employment of Matt Cooke is part of the problem in the NHL have a loud voice again and rightfully so. For all the issues the league is having with players disrespecting each other and delivering questionable hits to one another Cooke is the poster boy for it all. From his boarding of Fedor Tyutin that earned him a four game suspension, to his hit on Ovechkin, and thinking back to his disgusting hit on Marc Savard a year ago the league hasn’t had this obvious of a pariah in its history.

The NHL has whiffed badly on previous instances on an alarmingly consistent basis to show that they give even half of a damn about player safety. For all the talk that went on at the GM meetings we’ve seen the league fail to take charge with their soft two-game punishment of Brad Marchand of the Bruins for connecting to the back of R.J. Umberger‘s head with a blow and the failure to punish Patric Hornqvist of the Predators for his elbow on Boston’s Tyler Seguin. Two very dirty plays, two very head-scratching and soft penalties to both. This time around, the league has a lot to work with.

Cooke’s hit touches on a lot of things the league wants to eliminate from the game and makes him the perfect target for a message-sending landmark punishment:

  • He delivered a blindside hit
  • He delivered a blow to the head
  • He targeted McDonagh’s head
  • He’s a repeat offender

If all those things aren’t grounds for a major suspension, then there’s something inherently wrong with everything the league is doing when it comes to disciplining players.

The one guy who could make the debate over what the NHL will do irrelevant is Lemieux. If Lemieux believes in what he was preaching to the world in the wake of the Islanders thuggery against them, he’ll drop the hammer on Cooke himself before the NHL gets to. If Mario comes out and does that, he’ll set the example he was hoping to with his initial decree to the league. People respect Mario and if he takes a stand like that he’ll be an even bigger hero across the league.

We’re going to assume that the NHL’s response to Cooke’s hit will not be sufficient for most people. After all, how do you appropriately punish a player that’s escaped previous bans for any number of reasons and thus getting by on the NHL’s backwards logic that you’re essentially allowed one dirty play before you’re really punished. Cooke’s record looks virtually spotless considering he’s played over 800 games in the NHL and only been suspended for a total of 10 games in his career.

It seems that each time after he does something else foul we rush to yell that it’s an opportunity for the NHL to send a message to the rest of the players that wanton wretched play will not stand in the game. We’ve yet to be wowed by anything the league has done regarding other thugs and cheap shot artists and maybe for once the league can finally do something to be a positive influence instead of just talking about doing things the “right” way.

  1. spiffy53 - Mar 20, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Foot meet Mouth and now Meet Mr Lemieux. Next time you have a thought Mario, do us a favor and keep it to yourself. You can keep your hypocarcy to yourself. If Cooke is not suspended for the rest of the season, it would be a disgrace. absolutely the dirtyest player in the league.

  2. stakex - Mar 20, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    So Mario… where is your statement about how the NHL doesn’t need people like Matt Cook? About how such repeat (and repear and repeat and repeat) offenders are ruining the game and should be barred from playing? About how teams who encourage their play should be punished, and their owners fined? Oh yeah… so long as they are your players, you reward them with big contract extensions.

    Of course now after all the flack Mario has gotten from his hypocritical whinning, he has little choice to come out and publicly say something about how bad a hit this was, and that Matt Cook needs to stop it. That changes nothing however. Mario had the chance to make such statements when he first started whinning about the state of the league, and complaining after that Pens Islanders game…. and he didn’t. He showed that so long as the goons, and the thugs are on his team… hes totaly fine with what ever they do. Its just when it hurts his team that he cares.

    I really hope the league suspends Cook for the rest of the year and the playoffs. How many times are they going to let him take shots at other players heads before they grow a set of balls and do something serious about it? Small slaps on the wrists clearly do not work for Cook, and much more serious action is needed.

  3. tlndma - Mar 20, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    No telling what the league will do here as they surely lack consistency on these matters. I agree, that the rest of the season and playoffs would be just.
    What’s hard to fathom here is just how demented Cooke must be. He’s already ended one career(probably), is that not enough? Is he really that twisted as to not care about the consequences of his actions?

  4. crosbyhasgonorrhea - Mar 20, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    Wait? Didn’t we just talk about this last week? If Mario really wants to become credible on this issue and make a statement, Cooke won’t play again this season for the Penguins, regardless of the penalty handed out by the NHL. Fortunately, McDonagh looks to be OK – which really screws the way the wheel of justice works.

    Apparently, Mario wants to clean up the league so that his team can just beat up on the other 29 teams. Clean up your team Mario, then you can start throwing stones again.

  5. mrcowpatty - Mar 20, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    Would someone please kill someone so they’ll end this stupid sport.

    • razo1958 - Mar 20, 2011 at 11:54 PM

      Why don’t we just kill you to end the stupid people.

      • mrcowpatty - Mar 24, 2011 at 2:03 AM

        Why don’t we put your weak asp on the ice and let some goon slam your face into the glass. When you wake up let me know? Idiot!!!

  6. Jeff Thomas - Mar 20, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    As a lifelong Pens fans, I have to say I’m sick and tired of defending Matt Cooke. I hope the organization feels the same. I know Cooke is a big reason why our PK is one of the best in the league, and he forechecks like a demon and plays great hockey 95% of the time, but the other 5% isn’t worth keeping him around.

    • jpelle82 - Mar 21, 2011 at 11:23 AM

      i couldnt agree more. as a pens fan i say hang him high. he should never wear a pens sweater again

  7. farvefromover - Mar 20, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    i hope Matt Cooke gets herpes

  8. chrispel78 - Mar 20, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    one of the greatest players ever was also one of the dirtiest elbow throwers in the sport’s history.

    • stakex - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:38 AM

      Yes, but Messier never threw any elbows that ended someones career did he? Nor did he throw any a year after they were outlawed. There are so many factors that could be considered as to why what Messier use to do is nothing compared to Cooke, such as:

      1. Most of the Messier “elbows” you can find on YouTube were perfectly legal back then.
      2. The equipment was smaller, and not a dangerous back then.
      3. Concusions are far better understood today. I’m sure Messier never was aware that his actions could hurt someone for the rest of their life… something Matt Cooke clearly does know.
      4. Headshots are now banned… and Matt Cooke is still doing it. Messier never had a headshot in a time when head hits were banned.


      Besides…. what does it matter what a player who retired almost 10 years ago did? The fact of the matter is Matt Cooke is a predator, who is going out of his way, and trying to hurt other players. Who cares if someone else use to have the occasional questionable hit? Matt Cooke is a repeat offender, and despite all the talk in the last year (most of it directed at/about him) when it comes to headshots… he still ignores it.

      • chrispel78 - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:12 AM

        Cooke’s shot on Savard was perfectly legal(no penalty, no suspension, nothing) when he did that, but people are still including that in his “cheap shots” listing. Messier, on the other hand, was getting penalized for these elbows constantly. did you WATCH the videos? here’s a quick synopsis “messier throws elbow, whistle blows, melee sometimes ensues, messier goes to the box”. don’t know what world you’re in where elbowing was legal.

        and, personally, i don’t think mark messier is an idiot, but you must, since you think he didn’t know an elbow was very dangerous and could cause injury. even after he reformatted Kovin’s face in 1984.

        as for the relevance, it’s kind of hard for rangers fans to get all up in arms about Cooke when the only reason they don’t have to listen to “nineteeeeen foooorrrrtyyyyyy” anymore is due to one of the dirtiest players in the game.

    • nynewsblob - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:09 PM

      Hilarious comparing Cooke to Messier.
      One major difference, Messier knew he’d have to answer for every elbow he threw ON THE ICE. Does anyone think Matt Cooke would throw down with Marty McSorley the 9-10 times Messier had to over the course of his career?
      Cooke hides behind his visor, and the refs. He’d be a stain on the ice if he had come up in the 80’s/early 90’s.
      Oh, and Messier could play hockey too. Just a sidenote

  9. terrygca - Mar 20, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    I’m another die hard Pens fan saying Cooke should never put on the sweater again and it needs to come straight from Mario.

  10. ihateannouncers - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:35 AM

    This is a ridiculously cheap hit. Cooke will get 10 games, maybe more. He obviously doesn’t get it. Maybe we could give Lemieux a chance to do what’s right before we completely erase his credibility. Nobody outside of his team knows what he has done to try and get his players to play clean hockey. Cooke hasn’t gotten the message and now Mario has a chance to put his money where his mouth is. Lets hope he does the right thing.

    • chrispel78 - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:21 AM

      Why should Cooke get more for an elbow that Gillies got for an elbow, followed by several punches to an obviously unconscious player, followed by taunting that unconscious player from the tunnel?

      • spiffy53 - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:11 PM

        obviously you must not watch a lot of hockey or know nothing of the sport. if you did, you would realize that matt cooke is a constant REPEAT OFFENDER!!!!!!!!!. that is why this is a big deal. if this was his first dirty hit, we would not even be discussing it. hello, McFly.

  11. dwightbuttz - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:13 AM

    As a Die-Hard Caps fan I could actually respect the Pens/Mario if they gave Cooke the ol’ F.U. Make an example out of this professional DOUCHBAG. Cookie is the worst thing to happen to the NHL since Chris Simon

  12. joepags - Mar 21, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    love cooke style of play, but for mario to get my respect and back his words up of not needing players like cooke, release him. lets see how much you really wanna back up your words!

  13. memphisyinzer - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    Also a die-hard Penguin fan.

    Nobody should try to justify what Cooke did based upon what someone did before him, or continues to do. All of them need to be weeded out and removed from the game.

    He’s going to cripple someone if he’s not kicked out of the game and if others are doing something similar, they too need to be kicked out. But, Cooke is a Penguin problem and only the Pens (Mario) can fix it.

    Perhaps, if Mario acts, other owners will do the same with their problem children and the game can be made respectable again. If nothing else, Mario’s actions could send a message that others recognize as their own consequences if they don’t change their ways.

    Nobody can justify what Cooke did…..

  14. rogoceo - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    As a Pens fan, it pains me to say that either #66 needs to dump his dirty butt, or the league needs to sit him for the rest of the year…playoffs included. He has come through and been a good energy guy, but his repeated head hunting needs to be dealt with. He needs to wake up before he really hurts someone else….

  15. jkay123 - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    Chrispel78- take off your black and yellow goggles please. Cooke is a dirty player, he goes after players heads, period. The fact that you keep comparing him to Messier is beyond absurd. Messier never ended anyone’s career, never went to seek and destroy someone in that fashion and never put people in the hospital, Messier was a far superior player obviously and there is no footage where he made a Bee line and elbowed someone in the head. In his era you can find about 40 other players like that.

  16. capsrockva - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    he is such a dirty player. He should be suspended for the rest of year including the playoffs, considering he is a repeat offender

  17. hanktheking - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Here’s the problem with releasing him, someone will sign him instantly (regardless of suspension) and the point will be moot. Matt Cooke doesn’t deserve to play in the league because he doesn’t have any respect for anyone else. He doesn’t respect the league.

    The only positive that came from this, besides the entire hockey world throwing him under the bus, was the 2 goals in 11 seconds and ultimate loss by the ‘Guins to really hammer home what a douchbag move that was.


  18. iaintafrate - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Chrispel, put your pompoms away, you are embarrassing yourself. Lemieux put himself on the spot with his comments, now it is his turn to make a statement. He can grandstand all he wants, but as long as he employs Cooke (not to mention he was a former teammate of Samuelsson, Kasparaitis) his words are meaningless. He will cry when it suits his team, but when it’s one of “his guys” he is more than happy to look the other way. What a fraud.

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