If the league wants any credibility, it must hand out a punishment at least twice as severe to Matt Cooke.
Cooke, unlike Paille, has made a career out of "playing on the edge." The only problem is he crosses that line on a much too frequent basis. Even worse, he's been allowed time and time again to skate free.
The latest chapter in Cooke's epic tome of dirty, dangerous hits was authored Tuesday night, when the Columbus Blue Jackets were visiting Cooke's Pittsburgh Penguins. Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin was in the corner with his back to the ice. Cooke saw nothing but the "5" and the "1" on Tyutin's back, but he never slowed. Instead, he charged forward, leapt off the ice and barreled Tyutin headfirst into the boards.
Tyutin wasn't injured, but that fact doesn't make the hit any less gruesome. And the fact that it's the umpteenth time Cooke has done something along these lines makes it worse.
On Wednesday morning, the NHL is holding a disciplinary hearing for Cooke. Unlike last year, when he wasn't punished for his blind-side hit to the head of Marc Savard, he'll almost assuredly face a suspension this time around. How long that suspension is, though, will be important.
As mentioned earlier, Paille was handed a heavy punishment at four games. Philadelphia Flyer Jody Shelley was given a two-game suspension for boarding Adam McQuaid earlier this season. Flyers forward Daniel Briere was suspended three games for cross-checking an opponent in the head. Joe Thornton, a veritable Mr. Clean, was suspended two games for a hit that was clearly more accidental than anything.
In the case of Cooke, nothing was accidental. He's got a rap sheet that runs as long as a Wayne Gretzky highlight reel.
He has a history of going for cheap and dangerous knee-to-knee hits, and he did it again over the weekend to Alex Ovechkin, only the league's second-biggest star.
The league's biggest star, Sidney Crosby, is out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion in early January. He's been out for a month and he missed the All-Star Game, bringing the cold reality of the dangers of the game to the forefront of the minds of NHL executives.
If the league wants to show it's serious about cleaning up the product, it needs to come down hard on Cooke. No two-game, three-game or four-game suspension. Make a statement with a 10-game punishment. Make an example out of Cooke. Let it be known that that style of play is no longer acceptable in the NHL.
Cooke's been suspended on three separate occasions in his career, each being a two-game ban. Obviously, the slaps on the wrist have never deterred him from changing his style of play. Another light punishment won't slow down the 32-year-old.
If the league takes the easy way out and suspends him for anything less than eight games, Cooke will never stop, and all that positive change the league's been working on in the past year will take two very big steps backward. The NHL has a chance to prove it's serious; if the league backs down, it'll be a serious problem.
UPDATE, 12:55 p.m.: The NHL has suspended Cooke for four games.
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