Matt Cooke is in trouble again.
The Pittsburgh Penguins left-winger will, once again, meet with the NHL disciplinary board about another questionable hit. It's another incident where Cooke crossed the line, purposely elbowing New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the face during yesterday's 5-2 Rangers win. The play earned him a five-minute major and game misconduct, and showed everyone he has yet to learn his lesson.
Cooke has twice been suspended for these plays. His headshot on Marc Savard from last season still draws the ire of fans everywhere and represents the headshot debate. He's moved from being a "pest" to a downright dirty player, one who perfectly embodies everything the NHL wants to eliminate.
Yesterday's hit surprises no one. Cooke is known to be a dirty player, and even teammates have struggled to support him. After the Savard hit, then-teammate Bill Guerin told the media there was something behind the hit. As he's continued to deliver these dangerous blows, teammates have struggled to support him. Even his coach, Dan Bylsma, couldn't explain his actions during yesterday's post-game press conference.
It's becoming harder and harder to defend Cooke's actions. In this era of hockey, where concussions take center stage, his antics no longer fit the game. With a hearing scheduled for today, the league finally has a chance to hand down a suspension fitting of the crime.
The guesses on suspension length ranges from five to 10 games right now. The hit matches criteria that should be used for suspending a player. Cooke took a run at McDonagh, leveling him with a blindside elbow to the face. The play itself warrants a suspension, and Cooke's history will increase the length. In the past two weeks, similar hits by Dany Heatley and Brad Marchand drew two-game suspensions. Those are two players who have no history, though, casting Cooke's incident in a different light.
Pittsburgh has 10 games remaining, and Cooke should most of them. This hit is the exact thing the league wants to outlaw. Colin Campbell and the disciplinary board haven't been consistent in the past with suspensions and fines. This is cut and dry. Cooke delivered a highly-illegal hit, one of many in the past two years, and deserves to be suspended.
Until Cooke displays the ability to play within hockey's rules, he'll continue to be a problem. It's time for the league to once again try and correct the left-winger, and the suspension must fit the crime. Cooke embodies the NHL's headshot issue, and a swift penalty will show a willingness to stop the problem head on.