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To: Mr. Colin Campbell, Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations for the NHL
From: A Bruised and Boiling Bruin
Dear Mr. Campbell,
It is with great disappointment that I am forced to write this letter. I am sure that this will be one of many letters concerning Mr. Matt Cooke’s hit on Mr. Marc Savard on Sunday, March 7, 2010, some of which will praise you for your choice made on Wednesday to not suspend Mr. Cooke and others rebuking you. Unfortunately, this letter falls into the latter category.
As a Bruins fan, the hit Mr. Cooke delivered on Mr. Savard initially evoked only one emotion: anger. Seeing one of the stars, leaders, and offensive catalysts of my team crumple to the ice after such a violent hit is a picture I am unlikely to forget anytime soon, especially seeing he has been the victim of three concussions, and it’s an image that infuriates me unlike anything else.
However, an event such as this hit supersedes team loyalty. As a fan of hockey and its players in general, I am incredibly concerned and curious about your decision. I wonder why are shoulder-to-head hits legal in the first place? I, like many fans, love the physicality of hockey and understand that very often, legal hits result in injuries, but no one wants to see what they were subject to on Sunday. Why did it take such a violent hit and potentially career-altering injury to bring attention to these hits? Less importantly, but still just as questionable is why didn’t any of the two referees or two linesmen call a penalty on the hit? You’ve repeatedly mentioned the similarity between Mr. Cooke’s hit on Mr. Savard and Mr. Mike Richards’s hit on Mr. David Booth earlier in the season. Mr. Richards was not suspended, but he was sent off with a game misconduct. Did all four of the referees in Sunday’s game not see the hit on Mr. Savard? What is the point of having four men in black-and-white stripes if they fail to make the right call or miss the hit? Additionally, why isn’t more attention to improved shoulder pads, with more cushioning, which could be the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness? These are all questions that I know there may not be answers to, but that I wonder as I write this letter.
Having read your statement about your decision to not suspend Mr. Cooke, I understand your reasoning: shoulder-to-head hits are not illegal under the current rulebook and the lack of suspension for Mr. Richards following his hit on Mr. Booth earlier in the season was used as a precedent. However, I wonder what kind of precedents Mr. Cooke’s and Mr. Booth’s “non-suspensions” set for the remainder of the season.
I understand that next year, assuming the rule changes suggested by the general managers of the league are implemented, both hits would warrant suspensions. However, if players such as Mr. Cooke, who have already been suspended (twice, in Mr. Cooke’s case) for similar hits this season, never mind their careers, know that there is no consequence for such hits, what reason do they have to not continue head-hunting? As long as they keep their elbow down, something Mr. Cooke did no more of when he hit Mr. Savard – who had his head up – as when he hit Mr. Artem Anisimov earlier this season (for which he received a two-game suspension), they know they will not be held responsible for injuring players, ending seasons, and altering careers. I know it is hard to imagine a player intentionally injuring a peer, but you, having handled both Mr. Todd Bertuzzi’s hit on Mr. Steve Moore and Mr. Marty McSorely’s slashing of Donald Brashear, have witnessed it first-hand.
I wonder, then, what benefit does the league gain from not suspending Mr. Matt Cooke? A reputation and image of fair and even-handedness, perhaps? But who is it fair to: Mr. Cooke, who will continue playing the very game he tarnishes, or Mr. Savard, who might not play another game of the sport he loves for the remainder of the season? If the NHL views that as fair, the league will have no problem if one of the Bruins’ enforcers targeted Mr. Crosby during their next meeting on March 18 with similar hits, correct? I am not advocating such an action, but if that is the NHL’s version of justice, so be it. If the NHL will not stand up for its players, they will have to do it themselves.
(Taking a brief tangent, if you will allow me, Mr. Campbell, I wonder what your decision might have been if Mr. Crosby were in Mr. Savard’s skates? Would the perpetrator of the same hit on Mr. Crosby be left off unpunished as well? Would you have allowed a player to end the season of the face of hockey – not just the NHL, but hockey – worldwide unpunished? More personally, what if Mr. Cooke had delivered such a violent hit on Mr. Gregory Campbell that Mr. Campbell, your son, were left with a Grade 2 concussion? I do not mean to accuse you of holding a double standard, but as a loyal fan to the Bruins and as a student of the NHL, I must wonder, especially after failing to suspend Mr. Scott Walker, himself a victim of Mr. Cooke’s disgraceful tactics, for sucker-punching Mr. Aaron Ward in last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. As you will remember, Mr. Walker should have been suspended for the following game according to NHL Rule 47.22: “A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime, shall automatically be suspended for one game.” Mr. Walker went on to score the series-winning goal, you will recall.)
In conclusion, Mr. Campbell, I find that your decision, however difficult it was to make, was the wrong decision. Instead, a suspension of three-to-five games, remembering that Mr. Cooke is a repeat offender and has been suspended for less, would have acted as a deterrent to other players for the remainder of the season and served as a small spoonful of justice, however insufficient, for Mr. Savard and the rest of the Boston Bruins organization, all of whom expected that, in Coach Claude Julien’s words, “the league would take care of [disciplining Mr. Cooke].” Such faith in a system should be rewarded and encouraged, Mr. Campbell; instead, you have destroyed its foundation by failing to do the right thing. I hope that for my sake, your sake, each fan’s sake, and each player’s sake, no more players are taken off of the ice on stretchers because of dirty hits ever again.
A Bruised and Boiling Bruin