I definitely couldn’t have called this as the topic of my first real post this time yesterday, but the landscape of the season changes with every single game. And with this abbreviated season, there’s a lot happening all at once.
I have to say, the idea that people believe Matt Cooke would intentionally use his skate blade to injure an opponent absolutely repulses me. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that in that situation it was even possible – that while trying to regain his balance after finishing his check, Cooke was able to get his skate blade up and into the proper position to slice into Karlsson’s Achilles tendon – I find it difficult to believe that even the old Matt Cooke would’ve been capable of something like that.
Of course, as multiple replays of the incident show, there was nothing to remotely suggest that the incident was intentional, or the result of a dirty play. Let me be clear: I feel for Erik Karlsson and the Ottawa Senators. Karlsson is an incredibly talented young player who is a delight to watch (when he’s not playing against one of my teams) and with what is undoubtedly a long career ahead of him, and no one wants to see injuries like this happen to anyone. But what happened last night in the second period of the Penguins-Senators game was entirely accidental, and (further) demonizing Matt Cooke and calling for his blood isn’t going to bring Karlsson back any sooner. All that will do is cause further damage to the reputation of a man who has worked hard over the past two years to change the way that he plays his game.
Cooke took his March 2011 suspension very seriously, not in the least because he was informed by Ray Shero that his career with the Penguins was potentially in jeopardy because of it and factors surrounding it (i.e. the more dangerous aspects of his play). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player look as completely disappointed with himself as Cooke did in interviews following the suspension. He promised to work to change his play, and anyone who has been watching him play since then can vouch for the fact that he has delivered on that promise. The Matt Cooke we’ve seen on the ice last season and this one is a completely different player than the one we saw prior to the spring of 2011.
His reputation still precedes him, however, and because of that it is understandable that some fan may have immediately jumped to conclusions following the incident during last night’s game. But jumping to conclusions, particularly in this case, doesn’t achieve anything other than placing blame where it doesn’t belong. Even Shanahan and Player Safety, after reviewing from every possible angle, concluded that there was no intent to injure or evidence of it being a dirty play. Cooke is guilty of nothing more than finishing his check, trying to regain his balance, and landing in the wrong place.
Unfortunately, sometimes freak accidents happen. I wish Karlsson all the best, and hope that his recovery goes as quickly and as smoothly as possible. But I also hope that Senators fans, and other fans around the league, can start cutting Matt Cooke a little slack. He’s hardly a monster.