Have Cooke's actions left Crosby and Malkin in precarious positions?
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Question: Do you think that Matt Cooke's actions have left Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in precarious positions? Teams focus on them, regardless, but now opponents' agitators may target them specifically. Has Cooke planted bull's-eyes on their backs?
David Wallowicz, West Chester, Pa.
MOLINARI: Teams aren't going to target Crosby and Malkin for physical play because of the blindside hit Cooke laid on Boston center Marc Savard eight days ago. They're going to do it because hitting skilled players as much as possible simply is good strategy when you're trying to minimize the damage they do.
And regardless of what players on the 28 teams outside of Pittsburgh and Boston thought about Cooke's hit, there's no reason to think any of them would go after one of the Penguins' elite talents just to avenge what was done to Savard. (Even though, with no suspension having been assessed for Cooke's hit or one Philadelphia Mike Richards put on David Booth of Florida earlier this season, guys might think they have a decent chance of going unpunished if they would do something similar.)
That won't necessarily be the case when the Penguins go to Boston Thursday night, of course. The Bruins have been chastised by their general manager (Peter Chiarelli) and a significant segment of their fan base for not going after Cooke after he gave Savard a concussion with a shoulder (or upper-arm blow) to the head, and it's hard to imagine that they won't be looking to exact some revenge at the TD Garden.
The only question is whether they'll do it by going after Cooke, or some of his more prominent teammates.
Question: Is Gary Bettman just bluffing about the NHL staying out of 2014 Sochi Olympics? The ill will it will generate with the players in general, the Russians specifically, and the inevitable backlash from fans and media obviously outweigh any minor issues the owners think they have. Please say he's trying to gain some kind of leverage with NBC by holding out.
Judd Stricker, Detroit
MOLINARI: The thinking here is that, no, Bettman isn't bluffing, but that he certainly hasn't staked out a hard-and-fast position on NHL players participating in the Games four years from now.
That will be a point of discussion in negotiations with the NHL Players' Association when it's time to work out a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA gives players clearance to compete in the Olympics, and if players really are intent on continuing to do so, the league should be able to get a concession on some other issue for agreeing to it.
Also, being noncommittal about going to Sochi should give Bettman leverage in negotiations with the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Russian Hockey Federation, the latter of which has not had a transfer agreement with the NHL for several years. If having NHL players show up for the Olympics in its country is that important, perhaps the Russian federation can be less rigid in transfer-agreement talks.
With all of that said, it has to be noted that there is not universal support at the management level for sending players to the Olympics. People in positions of authority have real reservations about shutting down the league for two weeks or more, and legitimate questions about whether the benefits to the league outweigh -- or even, offset -- the negatives associated with sending players to the Games.
First Published March 15, 2010 12:00 am