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Cooke's hit could fuel debate

| Monday, March 8, 2010

Matt Cooke likely will be the player NHL general managers discuss often at meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

His hit to the head that rendered Boston Bruins center Marc Savard temporarily unconscious and gave him a concussion Sunday will spark more discussion about head shots over the three-day meetings that open today.

With nine suspensions issued to players this season because of head-related hits, Penguins players said the lack of an official rule to designate head-blows as illegal has helped contribute to the league's problem.

"At some point, there's got to be some kind of rule or clear-cut direction. Right now, it seems like there's an in-between somewhere," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You've got to hope players will police it and do the right things, but at the same time it's a fast game and there are hard hits. At some point there has to be a clear indication for guys."

Perhaps that indication would most benefit players such as Cooke, or even fellow Penguins winger Mike Rupp - players who say they must commit to playing with an edge if they are to stay employed.

"The league has seemingly said that anything to the head is going to come with punishment even if it's a legal hit, but it's a fast game and things change real quick when you are committed to a hit," Rupp said. "You can't take hitting out of the game, and once you are committed to a hit it's tough to change.

"I'm not sure how you prevent it, to be honest."

Cooke's left upper arm caught the right side of Savard's head with 5:37 remaining in the Penguins' 2-1 victory yesterday afternoon. The Bruins issued a release noting that Savard lost consciousness briefly. He was taken from the ice on a stretch with his head immobilized, but the club's release said he was not taken to a local hospital.

Cooke said he was not aiming for Savard's head as he skated toward Savard, who was positioning himself to shoot a puck upon Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the offensive zone.

"We turned the puck over, they came back 3-on-3, I was the first checker back; he got the puck and I just finished my check," Cooke said. "It felt like shoulder-to-shoulder. I don't know.

"I know he's shooting the puck and I just finished my check. I got hit the same way the shift before by center ice by their defensemen. I saw him at the last second."

Savard was not available for comment, but Bruins coach Claude Julien called the incident a "classic blind-side hit" and said Cooke should be suspended.

The NHL is expected to review video footage of the hit today. Cooke is considered a repeat offender regarding head-related incidents and was suspended two games for his hit on New York Rangers forward Artem Anisimov in the Penguins' home win Nov. 28.

Cooke was penalized by on-ice officials for his hit on Anisimov. He was not penalized for his hit on Savard, and there is no NHL rule that designates shoulder-to-head blows illegal unless the hit constitutes fouls such as charging, boarding, interference, etc.

However, the NHL has issued its nine suspensions this season for head-related hits by forearms and elbows, and deliberate or late hits to unsuspecting players.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, a top-five hitter among players at his position over the past five seasons, said players "have to take it upon ourselves to respect other players" - though he was not speaking specifically about Cooke's hit.

"But I can't even think of a way you'd put a rule in because there are so many gray areas," he said. "If you're coming from the blind side and the guy can't see you coming, that's when you can hurt a guy."

Orpik said he "doesn't really understand" the current standard for suspending players because of head-related hits.

No NHL official was available for comment to clarify that standard. The "gray area" that Orpik mentioned was noted by several Penguins players.

Additional Information:

No rule ... yet

There is no official NHL Rule Book designation for blows to the head being illegal, though league general managers will meet this week in Florida for a second time since December 2009 to discuss the matter. The nine suspensions handed out this season for head-related incidents by players:

Player, team -- Date -- NHL wording -- Games

James Wisniewski, Ducks -- Oct. 31 -- Forearm blow to the head -- 2

Curtis Glencross, Flames -- Nov. 7 -- High hit to unsuspecting opponent -- 3

Danny Briere, Flyers -- Nov. 23 -- Late hit on unsuspecting opponent -- 2

*Matt Cooke, Penguins -- Nov. 28 -- Deliberate check to head -- 2

*Daniel Carcillo, Flyers -- Dec. 5 -- Deliberate blow to face -- 4

Ed Jovanovski, Coyotes -- Dec. 7 -- Forearm to head area -- 2

*Jovanovski, Coyotes -- Jan. 11 -- Elbow to head area -- 2

Mike Green, Capitals -- Jan. 29 -- Elbow to head -- 3

Cam Janssen, Blues -- Feb. 13 -- Late hit to head to unsuspecting opponents -- 5

*Repeat offenders

Source: NHL

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