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Matt Cooke's Latest Hit Puts Mario Lemieux In An Indefensible Place

Matt Cooke's blatant elbow to the head of a defenseless opponent makes the Penguins organization look bad. Here's how Mario Lemieux can show he's serious about stopping hits to the head.

Following the debacle of the New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins game on Feb. 11, Mario Lemieux sent an open letter to the NHL, noting his disgust that Islanders players and the organization itself weren't penalized heavily enough for their behavior.

Then the criticism came in, with many pundits feeling Lemieux's words rang hollow since the Penguins employ one of the dirtiest players in the game in Matt Cooke, who has been suspended several times for similar acts of violence not unlike those the Islanders performed on the Penguins.

Lemieux took further action in a letter to commissioner, proposing the following new guidelines for supplemental  discipline.  Here were some of his thoughts:

"On behalf of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, I am writing to propose a discussion by the Board of Governors and general managers about the NHL's current system of supplementary discipline -- and how it affects not only the integrity but the perception of our great game.

"The current system punishes the offending player but does very little to deter such actions in the future ...

"While there have been 50-plus suspensions since the start of the 2009-10 season, the suspensions themselves don't seem to be deterring these illegal acts and tactics. And we've often seen repeat offenders. We think it is time that teams also are held accountable for the actions of their players. We propose instituting a policy of automatically fining a team when one if its players is suspended -- with the amount of the fine based on the length of the suspension. This should serve as a disincentive for teams as well as players to employ these kinds of tactics."

Lemieux goes on to propose specific fine amounts for teams and notes that under his own guidelines, the Penguins themselves would have been fined $600,000 so far in 2010-2011.

Cooke's latest hit, this time an elbow to the head of New York Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh, has already drawn the ire of the hockey world. Cooke was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a misconduct and booted from the game.  The Pens would go on to surrender two goals during the sequence (that also saw them take another penalty), which tipped the balance of the game to the Rangers.

Cooke has an "in person" hearing today with NHL officials, which means they are taking the incident very seriously and will likely suspend the notorious Cooke for over five games.

But in the wake of Lemieux's comments, that's not enough.

Mario Lemieux is normally a very private person and as an owner, he has let his team be the focus and consciously tried to stay out of the spotlight. However, with his public letters, he has emerged as the flag-bearer for initiating change when it comes to hits to the head.

Now's Lemieux's chance to stand behind those words. Even if he, or Penguins coaches and management held a private discussion with Cooke about his actions, that's not enough. Lemieux has been public in proposing new rules, and here's a chance to show his conviction behind them.

Whatever the suspension Cooke gets later today, the Penguins should announce that they're donating the appropriate amount of money to a charity, in accordance to what Lemieux proposed in his letter above. Since Cooke is a repeat offender, they'll have to double it, as well.

Now calls to forfeit hundreds of thousand dollars for a business usually aren't received well, so who knows if this measure will pick up any real steam. What is known is that Matt Cooke has put Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a difficult and indefensible place. If Lemieux wants to get out of it, he's going to need to make a gesture to show he has meant what he's said lately.

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette had a similar idea this morning. This article was not inspired by that one.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.