Days after Penguins owner Mario Lemieux proposed a system of fining teams for players who act out on the ice and GM Ray Shero made a bold call for an outright ban on all blows to the head on behalf of his team, and weeks after Lemieux publicly blasted the NHL for not taking harsh enough action after a fight-filled game between Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders, Cooke has put himself and the Pens squarely in the league's crosshairs with another dangerous hit of his own.
You can hardly begin to consider what will happen to Cooke during his NHL hearing Monday afternoon without being smothered by it.
On Sunday afternoon, Cooke laid a gratuitous elbow to the jaw of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh on national television. The play itself wasn't as egregious as recent elbows we've seen thrown by San Jose's Dany Heatley or Boston's Brad Marchand or Tampa's Pavel Kubina; McDonagh also returned to action as the Rangers used the ensuing power play to turn the tide in a 5-2 victory.
But this is Matt Cooke, the poster boy for playing on and over the edge, a lightning rod for controversy and plain old hatred. And you can bet when Cooke meets with league officials, he will be facing far more than the paltry two games handed down to Heatley and Marchand and the slightly less paltry three games meted out to Kubina.
At the general managers meetings in Florida last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the GMs outlined a series of initiatives aimed at reducing concussions and making the game safer. Among those initiatives was a plan to fine teams and executives if players show a pattern of aberrant behavior. The GMs also called for harsher punishment for repeat offenders and for those players who target unsuspecting opponents with blows to the head.
Watch the Cooke hit on McDonagh and you see the check marks -- bing, bing, bing.
This will be Cooke's fourth suspension since January 2009. The previous three suspensions (for a combined eight games) were for a hit from behind and two blows to the head.
So there are two issues to consider.
How big a hammer does the NHL use on Cooke even though the plans discussed last week don't technically come into effect until next season?
We were critical of the league for going easy on Heatley and Marchand, but this should be a much easier decision. We're guessing the league starts with the Penguins' final 10 regular-season games and goes from there, potentially extending into the first three or four games of the playoffs.
Perhaps more interesting will be how the Penguins respond.
We were critical of Lemieux when he popped off about the Islanders mess because he didn't acknowledge his own team's responsibility when it came to on-ice conduct. But we credit Lemieux when he suggested in his recent letter to Bettman that teams should bear financial responsibility for their players' actions, pointing out that, under his plan, the Pens would have been fined $600,000 this season.
Throw in the team's stance that the league should ban all blows to the head, and Cooke has brought the issue uncomfortably close to home. Here's hoping the Penguins remain strong in their resolve that these acts are unacceptable despite that proximity. Here's hoping we hear none of the revolting comments we've heard from other teams that have lost a player due to his dangerous play, about how good a guy he is and how many hospital visits he makes and how the league got it wrong.
Regardless of what happens to Cooke, it would be nice to hear the Pens' voice loud and clear about how he got it wrong.