Tackling head shots head-on

Each week, CBCSports.ca senior hockey writers Scott Morrison and Tim Wharnsby conduct (mostly) friendly banter on the latest hot-button issues in the NHL.

Each week, CBCSports.ca senior hockey writers Scott Morrison and Tim Wharnsby conduct (mostly) friendly banter on the latest hot-button issues in the NHL.

1. For how many games should Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke be suspended for his head shot to Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard?

WHARNSBY: Cooke obviously doesn't get it. He is a repeat-repeat-repeat offender in the past 14 months. He was suspended for two games for a blow to the head of Carolina's Scott Walker on Jan. 20, 2009. He sat out another two games for a deliberate check to the head of New York Rangers centre Artem Anisimov on Nov. 28. Now add this head shot to Savard, and it's evident that Cooke deserves a minimum five-game suspension for his latest misdeed.

MORRISON: It is the exact kind of hit the NHL is discussing now, a violent head shot to a vulnerable player. But unlike the infamous Richards hit, this one appeared to me as though Cooke reached out with his arm to make contact. It wasn't hugely blatant, but after looking at several replays, it is noticeable. Given his history, I think five is the minimum, and 10 would be a better number.

2. What recommendations would you like to see the general managers make at their meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.?

MORRISON: It is going to be very difficult to find the proper language for the rule, but they have to initiate a major penalty for direct contact to the head when a player is in a vulnerable position, like the Richards hit on Sunday. The head-on collisions, like Neil on Mitchell had on Saturday are a different beast. There is going to be a large grey area, and there will be mistakes made on the ice, but Cooke could have targeted more of Savard than just his head, for example.

WHARNSBY: My friend Craig Button, the former general manager of the Calgary Flames, has an excellent and pertinent thought on head shots: he wonders why if a player delivers a hit to the knees, it is considered a "dirty" hit, but that same description is not applied when it's a hit to the head? They both have similar ramifications to careers. Hits directed at knees and heads can be blatant, incidental or accidental. I would like to see the NHL enforce a similar penalty for hits to the head as it does for knee-on-knee infractions.

3. With 17 games remaining and one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, will the Calgary Flames make the playoffs?

WHARNSBY: The Flames play 10 of 17 of their remaining games in the regular season on the road. This is a good thing, because only two teams in the West – St. Louis and Edmonton – have won fewer times at home than Calgary, with its 16 wins at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Only two points separate the seventh place Nashville Predators (75), Detroit Red Wings (74) and Flames (73). I expect the Red Wings to hunker down and move up the standings now that they have their injured players back in the lineup. The Predators and Flames don't have any more games against each other, but the Predators appear to have an easier road ahead, with 12 games against teams below them in the standings. Calgary only has five such games. So, I don't like the Flames' chances.

MORRISON: I don't see the likes of Phoenix, L.A. or Colorado falling out of a playoff spot, and Detroit, as you mention, Tim, is getting healthy at the right time. They also have three more home games than road games, and they have been better at the Joe than on the road. The Flames play Detroit twice and will need to win both of those games to have a chance perhaps of bumping them, but the Predators would seem a more plausible target. The Flames have won their past two games after that horrible game against the Wild, so maybe they have been scared straight. If they have, they can surpass the Preds.