Vinny Lecavalier generally stays away from controversy. That is why it was so noteworthy to hear the Lightning captain flat-out call Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke "a dirty player."
Cooke on March 7 laid out Boston's Marc Savard with a blindside shoulder hit to the head that caused Savard, with a Grade II concussion, to be taken off the ice on a stretcher. Though Cooke was not penalized, and the league did not punish him, the firestorm over the unnecessary, though legal, hit finally pushed general managers to recommend blindside head shots be banned.
Cooke's hit on Lecavalier in April 2008, when the center was without the puck, caused a separated shoulder and torn labrum that required surgery.
"But it has nothing to do with what happened to me," Lecavalier said of his feelings for Cooke, who played for the Capitals at the time and was fined $2,500 by the league.
"I just can't believe the league is letting him get away with (the hit on Savard). He hurts guys. He's a dirty player. He's running around the ice looking for hits like that when guys aren't looking. For the league to protect him … they said Mike Richards' hit and (Cooke's) were the same."
Philadelphia's Richards in October blew up Florida's David Booth with a shoulder hit to the head. Booth left on a stretcher and missed 45 games with a concussion. Richards got a five-minute penalty for interference and a game misconduct but escaped league discipline.
"Mike Richards is not a dirty player," Lecavalier continued. "You've got to look at intentions, and Matt Cooke's intention was to hurt Marc Savard. I don't think anybody is going to argue with what I'm saying."
Except Cooke, who faces Lecavalier and the Lightning today at the St. Pete Times Forum and told Pittsburgh reporters he did not mean to hurt Savard.
As for the recommendation blindside head shots be punished with a two- or five-minute penalty, Lecavalier said he would go further. "We have to protect guys," he said. "Hits to the head have been there a long time, but guys are getting stronger and faster. They've cracked down on hits from behind, and they have to do the same with hits to the head.
"If they change the rule, it doesn't mean it will never happen, but at least make a rule that will have consequences, not like this guy Cooke running around and getting away with it."