The Matt Cooke Suspension and the State of the NHL’s Disciplinary System


I am probably harder on the NHL and their Disciplinary actions more often than not. To be honest, my biggest problem, beyond the fact that Colin Campbell is a , completely bias individual who should not be doing the job he has been appointed to do, is the lack of consistency and often inexplicable disciplinary decisions that have come down from high over the last few years. In my opinion, as much as they have gotten things “right”, unfortunately, they have just as often gotten it entirely wrong or have utterly dropped the ball or puck.

In the case of Matt Cooke and the suspension the league has handed down for his most recent elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers on Sunday at MSG, the NHL FINALLY got it Right. Cooke will miss the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. For a “repeat offender”, this is EXACTLY what had to be done. In fact, since this was his 5th incident of this kind, it was about time he got something far more substantial than 4 games, especially when New York Islanders forward, Trevor Gillies, received a 10 game suspension for his hit on Cal Clutterbuck in which the video showed that there wasn’t even any initial point of contact to the head with his elbow and the reason given by the NHL was that it was because Gillies was a “repeat offender”.

As much as I enjoy the physical element of the game of hockey and I don’t want the sport to be turned into a figure skating competition, I certainly want to see the hits to the head and anything of that nature be eliminated from the game entirely. Make no mistakes about that. This is a sport where guys make livings to feed their families, and there is no place for that kind of conduct. So, punishing offenders and, hopefully, sending a message to the players, to me, is surely a “good thing” in the grand scheme of things.

I think that the fact that the NHL and this new “protocol” is being tried will work towards helping the matter. It is clear that this is an issue the league is taking seriously, and that will only better the sport. It will probably not eliminate the problem completely, yet longer suspensions should, at least, cause guys to think before they act. Yes, hockey is a game of emotion for sure, yet controlling those emotions and thinking before acting should be a part of any player’s mindset.

I am not going to take apart the 5 part protocol or comment specifically on it. I do think there are some “weaknesses” to it, and, for example, as much as I see the rationale to the “quiet room” part, it is something that can be abused. I have heard a few color and play by play commentators from a couple of teams point out that one can easily see the scenario of teams taking runs at other team’s top players to force that top player to have to sit for evaluation in the quiet room, and, therefore, remove him “legally” from the game for a time. However, the truth is, with any set of rules and regulations, there are ways to bend and exploit them. That’s just a reality of the world.

My biggest question or concern over this new stance taken by the NHL actually is two-fold. Firstly, as much as the suspension to Matt Cooke is a “good start”, I have to wonder how consistent future decisions will be. Let’s face it. In many cases, Colin Campbell and staff have made little to NO sense in the lengths of suspensions and the reasons behind them or NOT levying them we have seen over the years. One has to only point at the recent incident involving Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins for a good example. What seems to earn a guy 2 games in one instance will have another get 4 or 5 in the next. There have been blatantly disgusting hits that have resulted in minimum suspensions and ridiculously minor ones earn a guy several games off the ice.

So, to me, I have to wonder if there are actual guidelines that will dictate the number of games for specific incidents. Will we see punishments that make sense across the board, or will it still be a seemingly case by case deal in which a guy who plays for one team seems to receive less than if he plays for another. Yes, folks, I am suggesting continued bias. That is definitely appeared to be a reality, and this is something more than a few players have voiced over the last few years in regard to Colin Campbell.

The other question I can’t help asking is how long will this attention to detail last? In other words, right now, after the Chara incident and the Cooke suspension, this is a truly “hot topic” and all eyes are on the NHL. But what about next year? Will it simply go back to the way of the past in which there was no rhyme or reason to punishment? When the attention and focus decreases, will the suspensions and disciplinary actions revert to a crap shoot?

It is not that I don’t think this matter is not being taken seriously by the NHL. No, I think they definitely are doing so. Without a doubt, I believe they would like to get a true handle on the problem and facilitate its elimination. The thing is, human nature is human nature, and when the scrutiny subsides, so does the attention to detail and the level of concern. It just happens, and that is the matter that I am going to be curious to see how it will transpire as the 2011-12 season progresses.

As a last point, and it’s one I have brought up before, I have to personally say that the players have to get involved and the NHLPA has to take a far more active stand on this matter. It can’t simply be left up to the league to play “police state”. The day of the “code” has to be reestablished, and the union has to be vocal and active in how they deal with players who cross the line more than is necessary or acceptable. It’s interesting that the “head shots” focus suddenly became truly important after Sidney Crosby’s concussion, but, at the same time, if that’s what it took, let the player’s union now become part of the process. The NHL should be the ones to dish out the suspensions and step in when it is necessary, but this problem can be made to diminish simply if the players took a more active role in stopping it.

I remember reading an article a while back in which one of the old time enforcers was asked about how things should be handled as far as these blind-side hits and hits to the head. I forget who the player was, but he basically said that back when he played, if you had a guy like, for example, Matt Cooke, doing what he does, the enforcer on, let’s say, the Rangers, would not skate up to Cooke during the pre-game warmup to have a conversation. No, he would catch the attention of a Crosby or Malkin and basically point out the behavior of Cooke and casually warn him that if he (Crosby or Malkin) didn’t talk to Cooke to get him under control, it wouldn’t be Cooke who he’d (the enforcer) be coming after during the game …..

Overall, though, as a fan of the game of hockey, I hope that the days of respecting one another and keeping the physical aspects of the game in acceptable limits will return. Losing players to lengthy concussions and the endangering of careers has to stop. There is going to always be injuries and unfortunate incidents, but that does not mean that some control cannot be established over parts of that aspect of a game. Hopefully, the new protocol will help to be a solution and not cause more confusion and chaos. Additionally, it would be a good thing if the players themselves took responsibility themselves to meet the league in correcting this problem

Please visit our main NHL page,

Too Many Men on the Site