I haven't seen the Matt Cooke hit and I don't care to. This blog is not about whether or not it was a clean hit.
With that out of the way what I have seen is a lot of people commenting about how dirty the hit was. What I want to know is how many people would be saying that if Savard had stood back up and skated away. I bet most would ignore it. It's just a fact of our lives that we see someone get hurt and we assume the worst.
As I've said, this is not about the Cooke hit. Chicago fans were in an uproar when Willie Mitchell put Jonathan Toews to the ice on what Toews later said was a clean hit. The same was true of Florida fans (all five of them) after the David Booth hit last fall. The NHL is currently looking at how to handle situations like this, but their system is tragically flawed.
A big part of the current - and likely any future - system is that injury plays a crucial role. As long as the end result continues to matter we will continue to see legal hits punished while illegal ones slip through the cracks. Consider the Rob Scuderi hip-check on Jason Chimera earlier this season. That was a good hockey play that went slightly wrong when Chimera stood straight up at the last minute. Scuderi was already tucked low for the hit, and Chimera's actions in trying to avoid the hit made it worse. That was as much Chimera's fault as it was Scuderi's, but Scuderi was fined because Chimera was injured on a questionable hit.
Or how about the incident between Sergei Gonchar and Cal Clutterbuck? No question that it was a dirty hit on Gonchar's part, but no suspension because Clutterbuck was not severly injured and because, as Colin Campbell said in an interview, Clutterbuck had gone after Gonchar earlier that shift. He added that if he suspended one he'd have to suspend both. Say what you want about the Clutterbuck hit on Gonchar (yes, it was clean even though it was borderline on timing), he had time to hold up. He was headhunting and Gonchar got him back for it.
How do we solve this problem? By looking at each questionable hit and not its aftermath. If the league wants to cut down on hits to the head, they need to punish every questionable hit regardless of the injury. When Sean Avery tried to hit Sidney Crosby in the head earlier this season and missed, suspension Avery. When Ovechkin takes someone down with a knee-on-knee hit, suspension. Whoever and whenever, if the hit looks like it had injury potential it should be treated as though the player being hit will never walk again.
It still drives me insane that Sean Avery was allowed to punch Ruslan Fedotenko in the back of the head and was not suspended. Todd Bertuzzi did that and was almost banned for life. Steve Moore will never play hockey again because of a similar play, but Fedotenko survived and that fact spared Avery his own hockey life.
To be clear, I'm not in favor of removing hitting from the game. Hockey is a contact sport and it needs to stay that way. What needs to change is the way we view these plays. We see someone get hurt and we want blood, even if the hit was clean. That attitude allows cheap hits to go unpunished when people don't get hurt, and puts perfectly legal hits into the review pile.
EDIT: What phi is trying to say in his blank comment below is that there seems to be a lack of respect amongst players in today's game, and I agree. After talking about it a bit I am forced to ultimately conclude that everyone should read his blog titled "intent" and know that I agree. The league should move from a system based on injury to one based on intent. If you demonstrate clear intent to hit an unsuspecting player in a way that is in violation of the rules, then you face supplementary discipline regardless of whether or not a penalty was called. I'll let others determine more of the details, but that's my basic take on it.