Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Matt Cooke more than just repeat offender
By Scott Burnside
It was a day of punishment ... cruel, unusual and just.
It was a day that may have marked the unofficial start to the trade deadline frenzy, and one that saw a former playoff MVP go under the knife.
In short, it was a pretty wacky day in the NHL.
Here's a look:
The Penguins will be without pesky winger Matt Cooke as the NHL roosters came home to roost Wednesday with the announcement that Cooke had been suspended for four games for his hit from behind Tuesday night on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.
Cooke is considered a repeat offender because he was suspended for two games in November 2009. But he is more than that, having KO'd Boston's Marc Savard a year ago, an injury that led directly to Savard recently shutting it down for the season.
On Sunday, Cooke went knee-on-knee with Washington captain Alex Ovechkin and, while penalized in the game, escaped supplementary discipline. Consider this suspension a lifetime achievement award from the league.
The news didn't get better for the Penguins later in the day as the team announced former scoring champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was set to undergo knee surgery Thursday. The procedure will require about six months of rehabilitation.
Although it's not exactly news, there is an air of finality seeing the "six month" time frame in print and it reinforces the challenges facing GM Ray Shero, who is also without captain Sidney Crosby (still out with a concussion), Mark Letestu (out at least another month) and Chris Kunitz.
Cooke wasn't the only one to feel the pinch from the NHL's den of discipline Wednesday, as New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov was nicked for three games for an errant elbow thrown at Carolina's Zach Boychuk in Tuesday's overtime win by the Devils.
Volchenkov is a minute-muncher on a Devils blue line that has been much improved of late. Missing Volchenkov for three games won't help a Devils team that was not so long ago dead last in the NHL but is now on the outer, outer edges of the playoff race (the Devils trail eighth-place Carolina by 15 points), having gone 10-1-2 in its past 13 games.
Kudos to the NHL for handing out justice in a timely and harsh manner for both players.
After some speculation about whether New York Rangers captain Chris Drury was going to be able to stay in the slumping Rangers' lineup once everyone got healthy, it turns out Drury will be lost to the team for six weeks with a left knee injury that will require surgery. Drury had already missed 29 games with a broken finger and, while he never quite lived up to his billing (or his contract) since coming to New York, you could hardly find a classier gentleman than Drury.
Although his absence will be unlikely to be felt on the score sheet (Drury had not scored this season and added just four assists), he will most certainly be missed in the Rangers' locker room, as they struggle to halt their biggest slide of the season (3-7-1 in their past 11).
In other injury news, the red-hot Calgary Flames will be without surprisingly productive winger Alex Tanguay, who sustained a neck strain.
Tanguay is second only to captain Jarome Iginla in team scoring and has been a bright spot since returning to Calgary as a free agent last summer, forming the team's top offensive trio with Iginla and Brendan Morrison.
Tanguay can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The move will force head coach Brent Sutter to juggle his lines as the Flames, 6-0-1 in their past seven to move into the eighth spot in the Western Conference, will try to maintain momentum in spite of Tanguay’s loss.
Interesting that the Flames' first test sans Tanguay will come Wednesday night against an Ottawa team that is vying for the title of NHL's worst. As if being winless in 10 wasn't bad enough, GM Bryan Murray confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun Wednesday that captain Daniel Alfredsson is out of the lineup.
"I'm not sure how long he'll be out, it's not critical but he's not feeling well so we’ll keep him out for a bit," Murray told ESPN.com on the phone from Calgary.
When it rains it pours and the Senators are thoroughly drenched as they move into full sell mode between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Then in the "and now for something completely different" category, the New York Islanders announced that netminder Kevin Poulin is gone for the season after falling during warm-ups Tuesday and dislocating his kneecap. The injury forced the Islanders to play most of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Toronto without a backup. Rookie Mikko Koskinen allowed goals on the first two NHL shots he faced against Toronto and is expected be the team’s starter moving forward.
Somewhere, we hope Evgeni Nabokov feels shame. But we doubt it.
Finally, the NHL's trade deadline season officially opened with two old friends, Toronto GM Brian Burke and his replacement in Anaheim, Bob Murray, swapping familiar players.
Burke acquired Joffrey Lupul, defensive prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional draft pick for former Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin.
Lupul was a member of the Ducks during Burke's tenure and was traded by Burke to Edmonton as part of the deal that brought Chris Pronger to Anaheim in advance of the Ducks' Stanley Cup run in 2006-07.
Beauchemin was a member of that Cup-winning squad in Anaheim and followed Burke to Toronto, signing as a free agent in the summer of 2009.
The move will strengthen the blue line of the surprising Ducks, who began play Wednesday just three points out of the top spot in the Pacific Division. Although his offensive numbers dipped in Toronto (whose don't?), Beauchemin can play the power play and will log a lot of ice time against opposing teams' top players as well.
Lupul, if he can stay healthy, may help an anemic Toronto offense. But the attractive part of this deal for Burke is in adding more young assets, a pattern that can be expected to be repeated between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.