Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guessing you're going to get a load of emails about Cooke's kneeing penalty on Barrie. I know the rules specify that it is due to the severity of the knee rather than the injury that it causes. That being said, I was surprised that the hit on Barrie was not a major, was that a case of Barrie getting up and skating to the bench? Had he stayed on the ice, do you think the referee would have increased the penalty to a five minute major?
I'm also interested to learn whether Cooke will be counted as a repeat offender, I keep hearing that after 18 months of no suspensions or fines, that the history becomes irrelevant in handing out suspensions. If this is true, than the last time Cooke was suspended was 2011 (TSN's player profiles don't specify fines so I don't know if he was fined in between then and today). Would you consider Cooke a repeat offender despite his 3 year clean record?
Prince Rupert, BC
I am a big fan of reading your blog. I always email you in hopes you will answer my inquiries.
Matt Cooke has developed a reputation throughout the league as a very dirty player, yet when he kneed Tyson Barrie he was only assessed a minor. I applaud Barrie for being able to get off the ice on his own, but I cannot help but yell at the television whenever they showed Cooke's face.
I am sure during your time as an official you have seen dirty plays committed by players who have been known to play dirty. Based on your experiences, do you agree with how the officials handled this play? And for the $64,000 question, would you suspend Cooke and for how long?
Zach Budnick, New York, NY
I don't know what game you had the pleasure to take in last night Kerry but this game needed more calls on the obvious infractions. There was the knee on knee from Matt Cooke which got nothing called. After that they had so many obvious interference cheap hits and cross checks from both clubs either behind the play or long after the puck was gone. This game reminded me of exactly what you said you DIDN'T want to see from the referees, letting the game get out of their control by missing the easy calls and giving players far too much leniency.
My question comes back to Matt Cooke and how the play looked versus the rule book. Should the league suspended him if we look at it by the book?
Thanks for all your columns from the only neutral party on the ice.
Garreth, Zach (congrats on Q being chosen), and Bret:
The language of Rule 50 (kneeing) provides for a minor, major penalty (plus automatic game misconduct) or match penalty to be assessed at the discretion of the referee based on the "severity of the infraction."
In judging "severity" of this highly dangerous and dirty act, the referee must take into account the time, space and distance between the two players prior to contact, in addition to the angle of attack by the player guilty of leading with his knee to make contact with his opponent. Most often a two minute minor penalty can result when a player is about to miss an intended check and makes his body posture bigger with a reflex extension of the knee to initiate contact. This is executed with players in close proximity to one another.
The extended distance that Matt Cooke travelled through the neutral zone on a straight attack path toward Tyson Barrie, coupled with the fact that Cooke extended his knee well in advance of the impending contact (left skate off the ice through approach), elevates this infraction to a major and game misconduct or even a match penalty (I assessed a match penalty to Bryan Marchment in a game in San Jose for a very similar play when 'Mush' approached his opponent with knee extended outwards a good 8-10 feet prior to delivering a knee hit).
Only a minor penalty was assessed on this play. The infraction took place just inside the Colorado blue line. The referee that made the call came into camera frame with his arm raised from the neutral zone outside the blue line on the opposite side of the ice to where the infraction occurred. He was supposed to be the trailing referee on the play and it would appear that he vacated the end zone prematurely. As such, his sight line would have at best been parallel to the play. From this deficient vantage, the referee was provided a completely different perspective of Matt Cooke's knee extension and contact.
Following the game last night, the National Hockey League Player Safety Committee announced that Matt Cooke was offered the opportunity for an in-person hearing as required by provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for any suspension that can exceed five games. With a Wednesday hearing, it is not a question if Cooke will be suspended but only for how many games.
You ask if Matt Cooke can or will be treated as a repeat offender. While Cooke deserves much credit for effecting positive change in his method of play over the past three seasons prior to this incident, the fact remains that a player's past history will follow him throughout the balance of his NHL playing career.
My colleague and friend Bob McKenzie shared the following information with me that should address your questions. A player's record is expunged if he goes 18 months without an infraction but that only applies to the formula for calculating lost wages. If a player has a fine or suspension in last 18 months, he's a repeat offender and the lost wages formula is based on number of games suspended (5/82 for a five game suspension) as opposed to number of days (5/182 for a five game suspension in a 182-day regular season).
But a player's "history" stays with him as a permanent record and the NHL can take into account any or all past transgressions when determining length of a suspension.
History doesn't allow the NHL to suspend a player who, if not for his history, wouldn't be suspended. But once an illegal play has taken place, the NHL can use Matt Cooke's history as part of his sentencing even if his transgressions were years ago.
In the playoffs there are no lost wages; therefore the actual repeat offender status doesn't come into play for a player suspended in the playoffs unless the suspension carries over to the regular season.
By virtue of the in-person hearing being extended, it would appear that Matt Cooke's history coupled with the seriousness of this incident could be taken into account for the purpose of suspension. At the very least, the Player Safety Committee is not taking the option to impose a five-plus game suspension off the table.