Until a newspaper or sports publication hires me, I'm a homer. The Pittsburgh Penguins are my favorite sports team in the world. But even I can't defend Matt Cooke's hit on New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh Sunday.
Cooke's elbow to McDonagh's head was blatant and dangerous. And it came at probably the worst time in the grand scheme of things.
I won't say it cost the Pens the game. They scored a shorthanded goal and the Rangers didn't get going until Matt Niskanen got sent off for a double-minor high-sticking penalty. The high-stick was questionable as the Rangers player lifted Niskanen's stick into his own face. Anyway, the Cooke penalty gave the Rangers momentum, but to say it cost the Pens the game would be a bit dramatic.
Unfortunately, Cooke's elbow comes on the heels of Mario Lemieux and Ray Shero calling for the NHL to do more to protect players. It allows critics of Lemieux and Shero jump all over the Pens because they employ Cooke. Which then turns more people against the Pens and takes their attention away from actually cleaning up the game.
What was the man thinking? He can't claim he was just finishing a check. You don't pop your elbow out at someone's head to finish a check. It's understood that Cooke is the most effective when he plays on the edge, but that wasn't on the edge. That hit was just stupid and served no purpose than to take a cheap shot at another player.
While the hit was indefensible, I'm never going to be one of those people that say the Pens need to get rid of Cooke. He helps this team a lot more than he hurts them. And last I checked, the other 29 teams in the league employ similar players. Guys that play with a chip on their shoulders and tend to cross the line.
Cooke needs to change the way he plays. That's clear. He can't keep taking stupid penalties. Even when he makes clean plays, there is a good chance officials will flag him because of his reputation. Lemieux, Shero and Dan Bylsma need to sit down and have a long chat with Cooke about his future. He can play balls to wall, but he needs to know when to ease up. His past two incidents could have very easily been avoided. They served no purpose. They were bad judgments.
The team shouldn't get rid of Cooke for his play, but you also couldn't blame them if they did for the situations he has put the team through in the past 12 months.
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