If we had not seen so many previous "turning points" in the NHL's erratic fight against gratuitous violence, the long suspension of the Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke on Monday might be hailed as a sea change.
Described as a "serial headhunter" by one analyst, Cooke was banned for at least 14 games — the balance of the regular season and the first round of the play-offs — for throwing an elbow to the head of the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh.
The irony of the situation: it was Mario Lemieux, the Pittsburgh owner, who blasted the league for not policing itself after a riotous game between the Penguins and Islanders, opening a debate that led to the long suspension of one of his own players. Lemieux, to his credit, hailed the decision.
Cooke, who will lose US$220,000 (Dh808,000) in salary during his absence, is a repeat offender in inflicting head injuries. This was his fourth suspension in little more than two years and should have been his fifth; his vicious shot to the head of Marc Savard sidelined the Bruins forward for two months last season but didn't draw even a two-minute penalty.
If the NHL only now is waking up to the dangers of concussions, at least it came down hard enough on Cooke that other "serial headhunters" may think twice before their next cheap shot.
The idea is not to turn the NHL into a prim and proper ice show. It is to ensure the health and availability of its best players by limiting head injuries. If this is now, indeed, the league's policy it will be a turning point after all.