It's all over the interwebs. It's all over sports tv and radio. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing about it. If you haven't seen it yet...Here it is. You can make your own decision regarding whether it was a cheap shot or not.
Everyone is up in arms about this hit by Matt Cooke to Marc Savard. Was it a head shot? Was it deliberate? Was it cheap? Yes would probably answer all three questions but that is beside the point. Would everyone be having this conversation on here in the world if it was a hit on Crosby? Hell no!! The discussion of head shots would still take place and the perpetrator would be suspended or fined or both, but the rest of the hockey fandom would all be applauding and cheering (even if not out loud) because their perceived "Golden Boy" went down. If you want to be a Pens hater, that's fine with me. The difference is not a question of team loyalty. It's a question of what is right or wrong.
The problem is that the NHL has not clearly defined the rule. In fact, there really isn't a rule. There is too much subjectivity and debate as to head shot plays. Regardless of where you stand though, it is not good for hockey. Especially after the whole world just watched a great hockey tournament in the Olympics without much checking or other rough stuff (except for the Ovie hit on Jagr, that was brutal). If the NHL is ever going to win back fans and become a viable commercial draw, let's face it, like it or not it is going to have to clean up it's image.
The 2010 GM meetings started today in Florida and the head shot argument is set to take center stage. The league has a duty to put on paper a clear cut plain language rule that eliminates blindside hits or head shots. They can't in good faith eliminate any shoulder to head hits that occur or open ice collisions that result in injury but they need to focus on the "defenseless" nature of a player's positioning when determining the rule. They also need to clearly spell out what the punishment is going to be and have the officials on the ice enforce it rather than ignore it and let the league dole out a fine or suspension.
In this case, Savard had the puck and was shooting toward the net. Cooke clearly had his sites set on wiping Savard out and preventing the play. The puck had left his stick before Cooke got there. Savard's momentum from the shot pulled his head forward to a prone position. Cooke finished off his intended path and knocked Savard's block off. Problem is, he led with his forearm/elbow and you can't do that. Everyone is comparing this one to the Mike Richards hit on David Booth. Richards went full speed with his shoulder and because of how Booth twisted, he got clobbered in the head. Again, Booth had the puck. Richards saw him, set his sites on taking him away from the puck, and finished him off. The only difference here is the positioning and the follow through. Booth had the puck and was hit with a body check. Savard didn't have the puck and was hit with a somewhat outstretched forearm.
I know the players ultimately are not stupid. They will most definitely find ways around any rule that may come of this to try and draw penalty minutes just as they do with the blind hits from behind. The thing is, I don't think they are dumb enough to put their careers and lives in danger when it comes to having their head knocked off by an open ice hit just for an extra man advantage.
Let me be clear on this. I am a Pens fan. I have always liked Matt Cooke's style of agressive play and I hardly think he is one of those annoying goon-ish players that sets their sets day in and day out on ending someone's career. Does that mean I condone what happened? No. Is he a repeat offender? Yes. Does that make him a horrible player and a criminal? No. I think the officials dropped the ball by not calling at least an elbowing penalty and maybe a roughing penalty. The league will make their decision on any suspension or fine. Just remember, Richards got nothing for his hit. If intent is punishable, this case might be different.