Cooke needs to go

The NHL has been saying and (to a certain point) doing all the right things. With talk that the game is too violent not only gaining more and more weight but even generating withdrawal threats from sponsors, the league has been scrambling to respond to this season’s rash of cheap hits, namely head shots.

“There’s no room for those kinds of hits in the game”, “our players safety is our top priority”, this has been the kind of rhetoric coming from league officials of late and they have been backing it up, dishing out suspensions for most of the hits that have been deemed ‘dirty.’

And then Pittsburgh tough-guy (and I use that term in the most ironic of senses) Matt Cooke decided to throw a flying elbow to the head of Rangers’ defencemen Ryan McDonagh.

After what was possibly the dirtiest play of the year, the NHL responded with it’s heftiest suspension of 2010-11. Cooke will be out for 10 games, which equates to the rest of the regular season, on top of the first round of the playoffs, a sizable punishment indeed.

But my question is, why not go further?

Much of the reaction to the NHL’s suspension of Cooke is that they were making an example of the Pittsburgh winger, but if they really wanted to do that, I say get rid of him all together. Clearly suspensions and fines are not stopping cheap shots from being prevalent, if not dominating, the game.

If the NHL really wanted to send a message that these kinds of hits won’t be tolerated, why not kick a guy like Cooke out of the league all together? Aside from the Pittsburgh Penguins, I don’t think there would be much opposition around the league.

Cooke is one of the most notorious repeat offenders for these kinds of dirty hits having been suspended for cheap shots four separate times in his career. But furthermore, Cooke simply represents the kinds of player the NHL claims to “have no room for.” Aside from killing the odd penalty, Cooke’s role is little more than getting under the opponents’ skin, usually through cheap shots.

So while I applaud the NHL for giving Cooke the hefty suspension they did, I still don’t think it’s going to solve the problem. I say until we start seeing the players who are again and again the perpetrators of these dirty hits, kicked out of the league, cheap shots will still be an issue in the NHL.