So far during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, there has been no shortage of emotional moments, stirring comebacks and terrific individual performances. Still, we are once again left with an uncomfortable sense of bewilderment at just what the NHL powers want the game to look like, what is going to be acceptable conduct on the ice (or the bench), and how you make the appropriate statement to reinforce that. Lots of lows and a few highs.
What are we talking about?
How about this: There is no way to defend Minnesota forward Matt Cooke's knee on Tyson Barrie in Game 3 that likely finished the Colorado Avalanche defenseman's season and earned Cooke a seven-game suspension. None. But to instantly assume that a guy who hasn't run afoul of NHL law in terms of supplemental discipline since late in the 2011 season is merely revealing his "true" colors is just a tad too convenient for my liking. All the evidence suggests Cooke worked at changing the way he played, changing angles of approach and learning when to back off rather than ram forward. Was this a dangerous play? Yes. Was it worse than Bryan Bickell's knee on Vladimir Sobotka in Game 2 of the Chicago-St. Louis series? The outcome was different and assailant was different, but they are basically the same type of play with the same potential outcome. Barrie is gone long term, while Sobotka was able to get up and return to action. Bickell was assessed a minor penalty, as was Cooke. Now Cooke is gone seven games because in this league, you can never really escape the past. Should you be able to? That's a fair question. Shouldn't this be like the penal system where rehabilitation is as much a part of the equation as punishment? Part of the legacy of former head of player safety Brendan Shanahan was reaching out to players who might have been close to the line to talk about modifying their games or warning them of future consequences. In the end, Cooke deserved to be punished, and many wanted to see an even greater penalty. Still doesn't excuse Bickell's reckless play, which should have cost him at least some time away from the series.
And then there's this: Boston's Milan Lucic spears Detroit's Danny DeKeyser in the groin area. Painful? Check. Reckless and dangerous? Check. The Bruins winger wasn't penalized during the game and gets a $5,000 fine, half the maximum allowed by the current collective bargaining agreement. Really? Why not a one-game suspension? And why, for goodness sake, not the full $10,000, as paltry as that is for a stick in the nether regions? Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who had the misfortune of briefly grabbing his own groin area after officials failed to call a penalty in overtime of Game 1 of the Hawks' series with St. Louis, had to pay $25,000 because the league can do whatever it likes to coaches, general managers and other team officials. Logic check to Aisle 1.