Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hallelujah Matt Cooke has seen the light!

“I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change,” Cooke told Pittsburgh reporters Monday night. “That’s what I wanted my message to be.” Matt Cooke

What a pile of bullshit neatly wrapped in paper with a bow.

Cooke is 32 years old and been in the NHL for 13 years and it took this long to figure out he was playing the game wrong? As he was walking into the NHL offices for his hearing he must have had an epiphany. Next he will give up swearing and drinking bear.

Players like Matt Cooke have understood their role very well. He can chip in for 10 to 15 goals per season and is good at killing penalties. But his real value to a team is as an agitator. His extended NHL career is directly related to his ability to injury and intimidate. The weak enforcement of rules allowed him to earn the reputation as the dirtiest player in the league. He relished the notoriety because it earned him a good income. His announcement that he plans to change his approach has nothing to do with a concern for the game or his opponents. He understands where in the past blindsiding players kept him employed; now he has to stop to ensure the pay cheques keep coming. Players have no respect for each other. They will do whatever it takes to play in the NHL. No NHL fighter enjoys taking bare knuckle punches to his face or skull but if that’s what his coach expects him to do then he will.

“I’m fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn’t hurt,” said Cooke. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. That’s not my intention. I know that I can be better. ... I made a mistake, and I’m the one who’s accountable for that. And I take full responsibility for it.” Matt Cooke

Matt Cooke never intended to hurt anyone? That’s what is really infuriating about players like Cooke. They would jeopardize an opponent’s career to promote their own. He may have ended Marc Savard’s career. What was he trying to do when he came across the ice to blindside him? Who is he trying kid?

Ironically Cooke had a role what was one of the most brutal attacks the NHL has ever seen. On March 8, 2007, Canuck coach Marc Crawford sent Matt Cooke out on the ice to take on Avalanche forward Steve Moore who had in a previous meeting injured Canuck star Markus Naslund. Moore held his own against Cooke that night but it didn't end there. An upset Crawford then instructed Todd Bertuzzi to teach Moore a lesson. The rest is history.

Intelligent fans understand the hitting is part of the game. Body checks are intended to separate a puck carrier from the puck and nothing more. That’s the way the game was played for decades. Of course injuries can result from contact but hits were never intended to take a person’s head off. But that is exactly the attitude that has crept into the game.

The reaction to the Cooke suspension has been positive. But if the worst offender in the league only gets 10 games and one round of playoffs then what happens the next time Dany Heatley targets someone head. Another slap on the wrist? Maybe. I’m not convinced that the NHL is ready to clean up their game rather than responding to external pressure. We shall see what the future brings.

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