Hockey Notes

Punishment too light for Cooke’s heavy hits

By Kevin Paul Dupont
March 27, 2011

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Matt Cooke’s suspension last week was a good call by NHL headquarters, but it should have cut deeper. His dossier of dastardly deeds is thick enough now that the 32-year-old Cooke, who delivered yet another blind-side elbow-to-chin hit last Sunday — this time to defenseless Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh — should have been told to go home until at least September.

An element of community service also would have been appropriate. The miscreant Penguins forward might dial down the mayhem a notch if he were assigned one eight-hour shift a week to a hospital ward where he could witness first-hand what it means to live with a head injury. Or how about a week-long internship (he has the time now) at the Veterans Administration hospital in Bedford, where the damaged brains of NHL alums Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert are part of an expanding study by Boston University scientists on how concussive and subconcussive hits can permanently impair athletes’ brains?

Let us not forget that the NHL in December 2008 suspended Dallas’s Sean Avery six games after he made a lewd remark about an ex-girlfriend. The NHL ordered then that Avery undergo evaluation for anger management, in part for what it labeled his “pattern of unacceptable and anti-social behavior.’’

Sure seems that Cooke’s actions have been unacceptable and anti-social.

Instead, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell bounced Cooke for the remainder of the regular season and Round 1 of the playoffs. If the Penguins find themselves standing in the second round, Cooke pulls the “Get out of Jail Free’’ card out of his tattered glove (worn out from delivering cheap shots) and provides his team a booster shot, or two, or three. As we know, there is no end to how many shots Cooke can deliver.

Good on Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero, a Boston-based agent in his prior life, for making public his words of caution to Cooke, reflecting his disdain for his employee’s repeated transgressions.

“Head shots have no place in hockey,’’ said Shero. “We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen.’’

Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, hyper-critical of the league weeks ago when he felt the Islanders were insufficiently punished following a Feb. 11 brawl with the Penguins, thus far has said nothing in the wake of Cooke’s latest travesty. A bit backward by the hypocritical No. 66. He would have been wise to hold his tongue after the brawl and bellowed loud now about the open wound he keeps employed on his own bench.

True concern over the game Lemieux says he loves would move him as soon as possible to place Cooke on waivers or send him packing during the two-week buyout period leading up to July 1 free agency.

All well and good for the Penguins to say they want to rehab Cooke and not turn him out for someone else to adopt his problems. But they’ve had three years to do that, and he has been in the hurt business since entering the league with Vancouver in 1998-99.

Time for Cookie to go hit his own head against the wall. His victims have had enough of him doing it to them.

Islanders get money’s worth Set your parameters where you’d like, but I have Islanders center Frans Nielsen, with a paltry cap figure of $525,000, as the best deal of the 2010-11 season. I’m not even focusing so much on his strong scoring (68 games, 11-31—42 and a plus-13 entering last night’s game) with the perpetually struggling Fishermen (rolling to their fourth straight DNQ).

Of the 576 forwards to suit up through the middle of last week, the 26-year-old Nielsen, among the few NHLers born in Denmark, was one of only eight to average better than 2:15 on both the penalty-killing and power-play units. The other seven, a group that includes teammate Josh Bailey, average $3.046 million.

Setting the parameters slightly different for defensemen — because they are about half in number (294 as of Thursday morning) — only eight of them average better than 2:30 on both the PK and PP units. The average pay among those back liners: $4.994 million. The best bargain back there: Carolina’s Joe Corvo at $2.25 million. (See chart, below left, for complete list in each category.)

Nielsen likely will remain a top deal next season, his salary pegged at $550,000. He is on target to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012. As of Thursday morning, his 42 points ranked T-100 among those 576 forwards.

New Bourque ready for entry Ryan Bourque, wrapping up his second season with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), recently signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Rangers with a maximum payout of $1.7 million. His dad’s first contract with the Bruins, by the way, was for a gross $300,000 over three seasons, a portion of which he used to buy his father a black Oldsmobile Cutlass with gold trim (sans a Spoked-B in the hubcaps). Ryan, who turned 20 in January, spent two seasons with the US development team in Ann Arbor, Mich., prior to going to “the Q.’’ The Manhattanites picked him 80th overall in the 2009 draft and risked losing him had he not signed his entry deal with the Rangers prior to the June draft. Another top Rangers prospect, Chris Kreider (19th overall in that same draft), just finished his sophomore season at Boston College. Christopher Bourque, who turned 25 in January, opened the season in Russia (Mytishchi), then moved on to Lugano, Switzerland, where he finished second in team scoring with 15-23—38 in 41 games, runner-up to ex-NHLer Hnat Domenichelli.

Fearsome foursome Matt Cooke became only the fourth player banned for the remainder of an NHL season. The rest of the murderer’s row: Marty McSorley, Bruins, 2000; Todd Bertuzzi, Canucks, 2004; and Chris Simon, Islanders, 2007. The 47-year-old McSorley, by the way, recently spoke openly about his struggles with memory loss and other cognitive issues after his career ended with the Bruins in 2000 (his final game was Feb. 21, 2000, when he used his stick to club Vancouver’s Donald Brashear over the head, inflicting a Grade 3 concussion). Less than a month ago, in a story in Canada’s Globe and Mail, McSorley reported difficulty seeing his face while shaving as well as forgetting such things as why he walked into a room. All possibly due to concussions, according to McSorley, who fought 273 times during a career that spanned 17 seasons. “You don’t know if it’s from all the contact you’ve had over the years or what,’’ said McSorley.

Screen shot Congratulations to the NBC broadcast crew, specifically rinkside reporter Pierre McGuire, for his poignant call-out last Sunday following Cooke’s elbow to Ryan McDonagh’s jaw. “Mario Lemieux, the owner here,’’ said McGuire, “and Ray Shero, the general manager, they want to get rid of those things — then Matt Cooke’s got to stop doing that.’’ NESN viewers are deprived the same level of scrutiny during Bruins broadcasts. It is abundantly, even risibly clear that the order from NESN headquarters is never to utter a discouraging word. In a town where the viewing audience knows good, bad, and charade, NESN’s good-times-nothing-but-good-times parody is an insult to a paying, knowing audience. Is that what viewers expect when they pay for that chunk of entertainment in their monthly cable bill? However, let it be duly noted that NESN reported a 6.6 Nielsen rating for its Thursday night Bruins-Canadiens tilt — its best rating in 27 years of covering the club. Proof that Bruins viewers appreciate the it’s-all-good spin, not to mention the underlying hope that a game with the Habs comes with a bucket of blood.

This Geoffrion a tricky one A frustrating meltdown last Sunday in Buffalo had the Sabres booting away a 3-1 lead over the Predators in the final 2:30 of regulation and falling, 4-3, in OT. Three of Nashville’s goals were delivered by rookie Blake Geoffrion — the fifth hat trick this season by an NHL freshman and the third time at the expense of the Sabres (no doubt payback for the hat trick Drew Stafford scores every game against the Bruins). Geoffrion, by the way, was Nashville’s top pick, 56th overall, in the 2006 draft. And now the Baby Boomer alert: Blake is the grandson of Montreal great Bernie “Boom Boom’’ Geoffrion and the great-grandson of another CH legend, Howie Morenz. Danny Geoffrion, Blake’s dad, was a Montreal first-round pick in 1978. Boom Boom’s No. 5 hangs in the Bell Centre rafters in Montreal. Blake wears the same number, in granddaddy’s honor. Prior to turning pro last spring, Geoffrion, 23, played four seasons at the University of Wisconsin. Entering last night’s game, he had six goals in only 104:46 career ice time.

Salute to a service man P.J. Axelsson, 36, his season with Vastra Frolunda wrapped up in Sweden, took in Thursday’s game at the Garden and flashed the crowd a thumbs-up when put on the big screen. A rare Bruins lifer, Axie went home when his deal here expired after the 2008-09 season. General manager Peter Chiarelli said that summer that he would hold a night of appreciation for the durable forward’s good service (851 games) to the Spoked-B. He is No. 10 all-time among Bruins for regular-season games (797). Time to give him a tip of the scally cap at center ice. Of the club’s 10 retired numbers that hang in the Garden rafters, only three — John Bucyk, Terry O’Reilly, and Ray Bourque — played in more regular-season games for Boston.

A tender issue Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov, hindered by injury this season, ceded the No. 1 job in Washington to Michal Neuvirth and will be a restricted free agent come July 1. It’s possible he’ll bolt back to Mother Russia, where a number of clubs reportedly are eager to sign him. Remember, he played four seasons in the Yaroslavl system before coming to North America in September 2008. Admittedly, it’s a minority viewpoint these days, but a number of leagues outside North America have established quotas on “import’’ players through the decades, and maybe that’s something for the NHL to consider. After all, these are North American jobs, with handsome pay attached, and employment recently has been, shall we say, a topic of discussion in many parts of North America. A lot of Yanks and Canucks would be eager to take on union jobs as third- and fourth-line wingers, and backup goalies.

Loose pucks Blues president John Davidson to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch regarding his club’s intent on bolstering the lineup for 2011-12 now that the club officially has been put up for sale: “We’re like the Boy Scouts. We’re prepared.’’ The Blues have only 10 players under contract for next season, with a total cap hit of $32 million. Based on cap projections, teams must fund payrolls next season at a minimum that is nearly 50 percent higher than that ($46 million-$48 million) . . . The Canadiens are better, at least on a skill level, than their woeful showing at the Garden Thursday night. But in that one game, they lacked the requisite courage it takes for skill to be a factor. In hockey, skill without courage is like the Martini character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’’ — a man betting half a cigarette in a poker game . . . The Cooke suspension had your faithful puck chronicler attempting to get Marc Savard on the phone, in hopes of getting both a reaction to the suspension and an update on the veteran’s health. No word yet. Savard, 33, shut it down weeks ago after another concussion Jan. 22 in Colorado and, according to a team spokesman, he isn’t reporting significant improvement from his symptoms . . . Barry Smith, who helped introduce the dreaded left-wing lock to the NHL during his days on the Red Wings coaching staff, agreed to a two-year contract to become the Swiss club Lugano’s coach. Smith, 58, spent this past season scouting for the Blackhawks, after three seasons of coaching in Russia (St. Petersburg) . . . The Bruins yesterday paid tribute to broadcast legend Bob Wilson. Bruins fans of a certain age grew up playing street hockey, narrating their play out loud as if they were Wilson making the call. None better at his craft . . . Dennis Wideman’s plus/minus has been easier on the eyes since his Feb. 28 trade from Florida to D.C. He sported an ugly minus-26 as a son of Sunrise. Entering last night’s game, the ex-Bostonian was plus-6 as a Capital, with marks of 1-6—7 in 12 games.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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