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Long suspension for Cooke is a major blow to Penguins

| Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DETROIT -- Controversial Penguins winger Matt Cooke will serve the longest suspension in franchise history, and he seemingly must overhaul his approach if he is to play the final two years of his contract.

The National Hockey League suspended him Monday a minimum of the Penguins' final 10 regular-season games and the duration of their opening Stanley Cup playoff round.

The league's harshest disciplinary action against any player this season is supported by the Penguins, who are trying to lead a charge for cleaning up the sport -- including a push for head-shot bans -- while employing a repeat offender who is considered the NHL's dirtiest according to several players' polls.

"I'd prefer to be part of the solution to rehabbing him as a player as opposed to making the decision to toss him overboard to be somebody else's problem and say, 'We did our part,' " Penguins general manager Ray Shero said from Joe Louis Arena, where he arrived around 7 p.m. after attending a discipline hearing with Cooke at the NHL offices in Toronto.

"He's a value to our team when he plays hockey. For him to stay in the league and be a player in this league, he's going to have to do that."

The Toronto meeting with NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell was held because of Cooke's elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh early in the third period of a loss Sunday afternoon at Consol Energy Center. The hit, which has not concussed McDonagh, warranted a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct for Cooke.

Coincidentally -- though not embarrassingly according to Shero -- it occurred in the Penguins' first game after Shero led a minority push for a head-shot ban at the general manager meetings last week. A few days prior Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux had sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman proposing stiffer discipline measures to teams that employ repeat offenders, including franchise fines.

Cooke called Lemieux on Sunday.

"Everyone knows the short-term history that's gone on with Mario speaking and the backlash he received," Cooke said, referring to Lemieux's statement in February that called into question the dangerous direction of his sport.

"I just wanted him to know where I was coming from."

Lemieux was not made available for comment.

Cooke did not defend his hit on McDonagh, to whom he reached out with a text message Sunday night.

He also did not defend the hit during the Toronto hearing -- a sign, Shero suggested, that Cooke is accepting of a need to change.

Cooke will forfeit $219,512.20 in salary on this suspension, bringing his season total of salary lost to $307,317.08 -- about 17 percent of his $1.8 million salary.

Campbell was not available for comment, though he cited Cooke's status as a repeat offender in a statement regarding Cooke's second suspension since February.

"This isn't the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response," Campbell said.

Cooke is only the fourth player to receive a suspension for the remainder of an NHL season. The others were former Islanders forward Chris Simon (2007), former Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi (2004) and former Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley (2000).

If the Penguins' opening-round series is extended to the limit of seven games, Cooke's 17-game suspension will rate the 11th largest in NHL history. The 10 longest NHL suspensions are of at least 20 games.

This is Cooke's fifth suspension overall and fourth in three seasons with the Penguins, who re-signed him to a three-year contract worth $5.4 million in June. He has missed eight games because of suspensions while with the Penguins, including four after his Feb. 8 hit from behind on Columbus' Fedor Tyutin.

That blow was in violation of Rule 48, which was proposed by general managers last March largely as a response to a head shot Cooke delivered to Boston's Marc Savard, who was concussed on the play and has never fully recovered.

Cooke was not suspended for that hit, but it cemented his reputation as the NHL's dirtiest player.

That reputation merited a recent profile of Cooke in Sports Illustrated, a magazine that mostly reserves space for NHL superstars such as Sidney Crosby.

A concussion to Crosby from two blindside hits in early January sparked a movement by the Penguins to remove head shots from the NHL.

Privately, the Penguins have been criticized by officials of the NHL and opposing teams -- widely from the national media -- for pushing to ban all hits to the head while employing Cooke.

Veteran Red Wings center Mike Modano said the employment of Cooke "kind of mutes" the Penguins' stance on head shots.

The Penguins' standing as a Stanley Cup contender has taken another hit with the loss of Cooke. He is one of their two top penalty-killing forwards and has scored 12 goals, recorded 30 points and registered a plus-14 rating while delivering 192 hits -- 13th most among NHL forwards.

Cooke is third among Penguins forwards with an average of 2:45 of shorthanded ice time for an NHL-best penalty kill that rated 86.4 percent.

"People don't realize how good of a player he is," Penguins forward Craig Adams said.

Added Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: "When Matt Cooke plays within the rules, it's been very successful for us and was a big part of us going on that Stanley Cup run. That's the rub."

Additional Information:

Big ban, baby

Penguins left wing Matt Cooke was suspended Monday by the NHL for the remaining 10 regular-season games and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs because of his elbow to the head of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh on Sunday. Cooke will miss at least 14, and possibly 17, games pending the Penguins' opening-round series. The previous longest suspensions in franchise history:


Troy Loney -- 10 -- 1988-89 -- Leaving the bench to fight

Jay Caufield -- 10 -- 1991-92 -- Leaving the bench to fight

Jaromir Jagr -- 10 -- 1991-92 -- Bumping referee Ron Hogarth

Eric Godard -- 10 -- 2010-11 -- Leaving bench to fight

Stu Barnes -- 4 -- 1997-98 -- Slashing Bruins' Joe Thornton

Tom Barrasso -- 4 -- 1999-2000 Slashing Toronto's Yanic Perreault

Matthew Barnaby 5 1999-2000 -- Fight outside dressing room

Barnaby -- 4 -- 2000-01 -- Altercation with Florida fan

Billy Tibbetts -- 4 -- 2000-01 -- Punching Atlanta's Darcy Hordichuk from bench

Cooke -- 4 -- 2010-11 -- Hitting Columbus' Fedor Tyutin from behind

Source: Bob Grove, Penguins historian

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