That’s the hockey way. Vigilante crime. Self-policing. An eye for an eye. Cooke is nothing more than a dead man walking.
Last night, Cooke did his best to “even” things up in the Avalanche-Wild playoff series. In a game that ended regulation in a 0-0 tie, and was ultimately concluded by a highlight-reel goal off the crafty stick of Minnesota’s Mikael Granlund, Cooke, it could be concluded, was indeed the difference maker.
Funny thing, though – Cooke is nothing more than a mediocre, third-line forward. He’s a 15-year NHL veteran who serves a purpose, but he’s far from a talented skater or scorer. On the season, Cooke posted ho-hum numbers; playing in all 82 games, he netted 10 goals and 18 assists. Throughout his career, he’s averaged just 22 points per season. History suggests that Cooke is not the type of player that should be deciding the outcome of a seven-game playoff series.
Cooke didn’t – shouldn’t, won’t, can’t – win the game or a series with his abilities as a hockey player. But he can make a difference by doing what he did last night – taking out one of the hottest players in all of hockey, and arguably the Avalanche’s top defenseman, Tyson Barrie. It wasn’t a clean play. It wasn’t even a fluky play. Simply put, it was just dirty.
Just minutes into the second period, Cooke skated toward Barrie who was advancing the puck out of Avalanche territory. What started out as a standard defensive play turned ugly in a hurry. Well after Barrie flicked the puck up the boards, Cooke continued his charge. Barrie shifted to the right and Cooke, seeking contact, stuck his leg out far to the left. Cooke’s leg collided with Barrie in a nasty knee-on-knee assault.
Yahoo! hockey writer Greg Wyshynski described the incident like this: “Look at the replay. It’s like (Cooke) is doing the Captain Morgan pose.”
Cooke left the game with a laughable two-minute minor. Barrie left for good with an MCL injury.
The early diagnosis from the Avalanche is that Barrie will be out four to six weeks. Chatter around the internet suggests that the league will likely suspend Cooke for a few games (any punishment for him will likely be administered sometime today). But regardless of the penalty assessed to Cooke, Minnesota will come out ahead. In it’s simplest terms, the incident trades one mediocre player for a great one.
And that’s the problem with playoff hockey. The age-old, self-policing, unwritten rules of the NHL – to some degree – no longer apply. Sure, goons are goons, but one goon retaliating on another doesn’t do much good once the damage is done. The fortunes of the Wild won’t be affected by the presence, or lack thereof, of Cooke. Colorado, however, suffers an irreplaceable loss.
Bettman can address the situation – now, when it’s too late – but regardless of the severity of the suspension, nobody in Minnesota will care. Cooke has already done his job.
Job? That’s right. Why else is Cooke employed?
He’s got a track record of being a bad guy. Should the NHL hand down a suspension for dirty play, it will be the seventh of Cooke’s pedestrian career. From 2008 to 2011 with Pittsburgh, Cooke averaged 112 penalty minutes per season. During that same stretch, he never netted more than 15 goals. During the past two seasons, he’s lowered his penalty minutes considerably, and the last major incident he was involved in was last season, when Ottawa fans blamed Cooke for a torn Achilles tendon suffered by Erik Karlsson. But a leopard rarely changes his spots. Job? Make no mistake, Cooke is a hired gun, especially in this instance.
A track record like Cooke’s wouldn’t be accepted in another major sport. The fines and suspensions, or even the in-game penalties, would be too harsh; the missing time would be too risky for such a player’s team. In other sports, dirty play like Cooke’s wouldn’t be accepted – not for long anyway, certainly not for a nine-year career. Find an NFL, NBA or MLB player who’s served seven suspensions for dirty play; good luck.
But in hockey, they’ll stick to the belief that someone will ultimately bloody Cooke’s nose. And that, in theory, will take care of everything.
Cooke may ultimately get his – perhaps it’s a slap on the wrist from Bettman; perhaps it’s a beat down at the hands of someone like Patrick Bordeleau. But ultimately, it won’t matter. For Cooke and Minnesota, it’s already “mission accomplished.” The Avalanche, the superior team, will still win this series, but the loss of Barrie could make it tougher, and it will likely hurt Colorado even more in the next round or two.
It’s an unfortunate occurrence, but it happened because it can. It’s the hockey way, and sometimes that way makes no sense.
Doug Ottewill is the Editor-In-Chief of Mile High Sports Magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @dottewill.