Just a few days longer than 10 months since Matt Cooke’s blind-side hit to the head of Bruins center Marc Savard left the star playmaker concussed, Boston is back in Pittsburgh tonight.
Although the Bruins made their inaugural visit to the Penguins’ brand-new Consol Energy Center earlier this season, Savard was still out with the effects of his post-concussion syndrome from last spring’s hit by Cooke. Tonight, Savard and Cooke are scheduled to be on the same ice surface for the first time since the hit.
We all know the effects the hit has had on the Bruins and Savard. After a spring return to Boston’s playoff lineup, Savard showed up for training camp in September in a terrible state because of all his symptoms. It took him until early December before he could skate in a game. Meanwhile, Cooke wasn’t suspended for the hit and has continued to be one of the league’s premier agitators.
While it’s little consolation to Savard and his team, on a grand scale the NHL might’ve benefited from the Cooke hit and the outrage caused by it. The blindside hit rule that was adopted on a preliminary basis for last year’s playoffs and then fully adopted as Rule 48 in time for the start of the current season seem to be working. It’s widely acknowledged that the Cooke hit on Savard was the last straw toward getting the NHL and NHLPA to crack down on blows to the head against unsuspecting players.
The rule has hardly had to be enforced by the NHL, with only Joe Thornton and Shane Doan receiving suspensions, and Nick Foligno a fine, for a blindside or lateral blow to the head. While the Thornton hit on David Perron was debatable because of the angle of the hit and the size of the players involved, the Doan hit on Anaheim’s Dan Sexton was reminiscent of Cooke’s blow to Savard.
In the months leading up to Cooke’s hit, it seemed that there was a hit to the head that sparked heated debate throughout the league every couple weeks. So four months into the 2010-11 season, that there have only been a couple hits requiring the application of Rule 48, which might be a sign that the rule is working and players are being more mindful of each other’s well being.
Of course, you’re still going to have some dummy like Tom Kostopoulos making a run at someone.
That Kostopoulos received a six-game suspension, instead of the usual two- or three-gamer, is proof the league is taking hits to the head more seriously, even when Rule 48 doesn’t apply.
Based on the way Savard has played lately and the importance of the game tonight for Boston, it’s unlikely the center or any of his teammates will lose their head and do anything extracurricular to Cooke that could hurt the team. The two points, and only the two points, will probably be the only focus.
But those of us on the outside looking in can also focus on how much safer the game might be because of what Cooke did to Savard the last time the two met.