Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke has been suspended for the rest of the regular season (10 games) and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for his elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh.
The incident occurred less than five minutes into the third period of Sunday's Rangers-Penguins game, when Cooke went high and landed an elbow on McDonagh's jaw. McDonagh had his back turned to the Penguins forward, and was in the process of shooting the puck into the offensive zone. Cooke was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
"Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position," said NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell. "This isn't the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response."
Cooke will forfeit $219,512.20 in salary.
"The suspension is warranted because that's exactly the kind of hit we're trying to get out of the game," said Penguins general manager Ray Shero. "Head shots have no place in hockey. We've told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message."
On Monday night, hours after learning of his suspension, Cooke was contrite about his actions. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cooke expressed his regrets with the situation.
"I made a mistake," Cooke told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I'm the one that's accountable for that. I take full responsibility for it. I'm sorry to my teammates, my management, my coaching staff and my organization. It's something that, moving forward, I'll make different."
Cooke went on to indicate that he plans to change his style of playing the game.
"It's a learning process, it doesn't just stop with being suspended," Cooke said. "It also doesn't just stop with words. My actions will prove it. I just think that it's in my play, the way that I play. As I just said, my actions will speak louder than words. That's what matters most."
Detroit Red Wings centre Henrik Zetterberg said earlier in the day that the Penguins' agitator should have been suspended for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs.
"I don't think he should play anymore this year," the Red Wings' forward told Yahoo! sports writer, Nick Cotsonika.
Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, who just completed a two-game suspension for his elbow to the head of an opposing player, told ESPN that Cooke needs to be taught a lesson by the league.
"I think it's about time he gets [suspended]," Marchand said. "He needs to be taught a lesson. He's doing that stuff left, right and centre. I expect he'll get a bunch of games. He's got to be taught a lesson. He can't be running around doing that stuff all the time. He's going to seriously hurt someone again - look at (Marc Savard). He could have easily hurt McDonagh."
This is Cooke's fifth suspension - and his fourth involving a hit to the head or a hit from behind.
His most recent suspension was last month, when he was given a four-game sentence for a hit from behind on Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin.
In November 2009, he was slapped with a two-game ban for a check to the head of Rangers' forward Artem Anisimov. A season before that in January, Cooke was served with another two-game suspension for a hit to the head of Scott Walker of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Cooke is perhaps best known for a hit that didn't garner any penalty or suspension. In March of last year, Cooke delivered an unsuspecting head shot to Bruins centre Marc Savard. Savard suffered a Grade 2 concussion on the hit and missed two months of the season.