Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke has spent the past few years trying to convince people around the NHL that he’s a changed man. Despite having a checkered past with the league’s disciplinary department, Cooke claimed he knew he had to change his game, and for the most part it looked like he was leaning in the right direction.
And then Monday night happened.
During Game 3 of Minnesota’s opening round series with the Colorado Avalanche, Cooke issued a deliberate knee-on-knee hit to Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie. Almost immediately after the collision, Barrie was heard saying “I’m done,” to his bench. And he is, at least for four to six weeks, diagnosed with an MCL sprain that could very well end his season depending how his team performs.
Just like that, Cooke’s crusade to prove he was no longer a dirty player evaporated. His hearing with the league today resulted in a seven game suspension, but the real question is how many more in-person meetings with Cooke the NHL wants to have before finally washing their hands of him.
In all fairness to Cooke, he had actually made some progress in terms of cleaning up his act. His penalty minutes have gone down significantly. In 2011, he spent 129 minutes in the box as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but since then he’s never had more than 54 penalty minutes in the regular season. On top of that, he hasn’t served a major penalty in three years.
Despite all of this, there was a significant amount of people throughout the league who just weren’t buying it. It’s only a matter of time, they’d say, before Cooke’s true colors shined once again. These doubters were most likely shouting “I told you so” from the rooftops as soon as they saw the hit on Barrie.
Unfortunately for Cooke, this is the stigma that follows you when you’ve been called out as many times as he has for dirty hits. Barrie’s name joins that of Ryan McDonagh, Marc Savard and Artem Anisimov on the list of Cooke’s victims. He can preach all he wants about being a changed man, but this list won’t be getting shorter any time soon.
The NHL is no doubt hearing the calls for Cooke’s head after yet another suspension. How much longer will it be before they begin feeling the same way about him as do his detractors? This latest punishment will hardly calm the crowds screaming enough is enough. With every incident Cooke commits, the cries for his removal from the league will only get louder.
It all leaves one to wonder just how much is left on Cooke’s leash. The demand for extreme punishment has come from coaches, GMs and fans alike. His infractions may have become less frequent, but they’ve hardly become less dangerous. If Cooke has to make one more visit to the league’s disciplinary group, it could very well be his last.