I want to make two things perfectly clear before I start my Matt Cooke rant:
1) Matt Cooke is not a goon. While some of you have surely stopped reading this post by now, I’ll explain myself to the rest of you. There is a difference between a goon and a, well, a Matt Cooke. Trevor Gillies is a goon. Trevor Gillies thinks he’s a UFC fighter on skates. He has no talent whatsoever. He is the type of player who does not belong in the NHL.
Matt Cooke, on the otherhand, knows how to play the game of hockey. Is he dirty? Absolutely. Does he cross the line way too often? Yes he does. But he can play the game. Matt Cooke is one of the best penalty killers on the top-ranked PK unit in the NHL. He has posted at least 30 points in each of the last three seasons, including 30 in 67 games this year. He generally chips in 12-15 goals per year, and has been a “minus” player in just two of his 12 NHL seasons. He isn’t a great hockey player, but his talent level classifies him far above a goon.
2)I have supported Matt Cooke since Day 1 in a Penguins uniform. He plays hard, he protects his teammates, and he gets under the opposition’s skin. That’s exactly what you want in a hockey player. He has certainly deserved most of the suspensions and discipline sent his way by the NHL, but he’s a guy I’ve always loved to have on my team.
Yesterday, however, my opinion changed dramatically. While I still don’t see Cooke as a goon, I no longer see him as a player the Penguins need. If you haven’t seen yet, watch:
The Penguins were tied 1-1 at the time Cooke received a 5-minute major for elbowing Ryan McDonagh and a game misconduct. While Chris Kunitz would score shorthanded to give the Pens a 2-1 lead, an ensuing Matt Niskanen high-sticking penalty would give the Rangers a 5-on-3 power play. These two penalties would provide the Rangers with the spark needed to score four unanswered goals, and take the game 5-2.
This can’t happen. In the thick of the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins are beginning a grueling seven game stretch of the schedule. The team needs to pull out every possible point for the rest of the season, and this utterly useless and stupid penalty by Cooke may have cost the Penguins two points.
Now, the Penguins are six points behind Philadelphia for the division and conference lead, and just one point ahead of Tampa Bay and two ahead of Montreal for the fourth seed in the East. While the loss can’t be put solely on Cooke’s shoulders, losing those two points truly hurts.
It sucks to say, but I can no longer defend Matt Cooke. It’s simply irrational at this point.
It seems the organization agrees. It feels like Cooke has finally crossed the line with Mario Lemieux and the rest of the team brass. Don’t expect anyone to come to Cooke’s aid this time around as they have in the past. I wouldn’t expect Cooke to be outright cut or waived, but don’t be surprised if he is not in a Penguins uniform next season, despite having two more years left on his contract.
Cooke and agent Pat Morris met with NHL officials in Toronto today at 1 P.M. Check back for an update regarding the league’s decision.
The estimate coming from media around the league is a suspension in the 6-10 game range. However, I don’t think it would be fair for Cooke to receive anything more than what Trevor Gillies received (9 games) for assaulting Eric Tangradi when the teams met in February. Cooke never delivered a blow to the face of McDonagh, then dropped his gloves and beat the defenseless player into the ice, and then continued to taunt him from the runway.
Gillies should have received a longer suspension. The NHL set a precedent with that decision, and anything longer for Cooke would be unfair.
The Penguins travel to Detroit tonight to take on the Red Wings. The game can be seen on Versus. Puck drop is at 7:30, and Brent Johnson will be minding the net for the ‘Guins.
UPDATE: Cooke will be suspended for the rest of the regular season, and for the first round of the playoffs.
Glad the league decided to start sending a message to players now, as opposed to after the Gillies/Marchand/Heatley/Chara incidents. Whatever.
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