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Mile High Sports

The idiocy of the hockey code

Rest assured: If Gary Bettman doesn’t get Matt Cooke, Patrick Roy will.

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.

Advantage Wild.

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.

For complete coverage of the Avalanche and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Comments (12)

  1. avatar

    “Find an NFL, NBA or MLB player who’s served seven suspensions for dirty play; good luck”

    Ron Artest. 14 suspensions over 14 years. Suspended for far more games total than Cooke, too – over a 100 games suspended!

  2. avatar

    A few points:

    1. Cooke has been in the league for 15 years

    2. Cooke was arguably one of the most effective forwards for the Wild in that game. With the last change, and the wild “3rd line” playing whichever of the top two Avs lines they saw to a draw, he was very much contributing to winning the game as a hockey player.

    3. Possession numbers, corsi and fenwick are showing the Avs to NOT be the clearly superior team. The first game showed the Avs to be slightly inferior, but they pulled it out. Second game was pretty close. Matchups and zone starts for various combos of players changed drastically with the switch in venue and last change, and the numbers showed the Wild crushed the Avs in those categories in the 3rd game.

    All that being said, yes Cooke is dirty and I think the plug should be pulled on his year. His hit was by far worse than the stuff going on in the Blues/Hawks series, one of which got 3 games.

    The Avs do have home ice however, so while I expect this to go back to Denver 2-2, I think the Avs will pull it out. Terrible news about Barrie and best of luck.

  3. avatar

    Doug, there is no more code as far as these types of plays are concerned. The code used to be about respecting the game and the other teams’ players or someone will teach you respect. That’s no longer the case. Bettman’s instigator penalty and subsequent decrease in fighting has made the game less safe for it’s star players, like Barrie. Where a guy like Cooke would have gotten his comeuppance several times over, now he gets suspended/fined and then let back on the ice. There’s no real fear of anything bad happening because there’s no enforcer on the other side who can hold Cooke accountable without forcing his team to suffer a shorthanded situation in an important playoff game.

    Why do you think Gretzky had McSorley around? It wasn’t because he wanted to make getting an assist more of a challenge at even strength. No one touched Gretzky because they knew they’d have to answer to McSorley back in the day. That doesn’t exist anymore. Now a clown like Cooke can end the career of one NHL Star – Marc Savard – and come back and end the season of another in Barrie.

  4. avatar

    Patrick Bordeleau, the “hockey player” you suggest should exact revenge on Cooke, has played to the tune of 11 points and 115 pim this year. Cooke has 28 points and 54 pim this year. Where is Bordeleau’s place on the rink then? He’s certainly not contributing points, and is hurting his team by taking over twice as many penalties as Cooke. Cooke’s hit was dirty and he should be suspended for it. But trying to make the case that he has less of a place on a hockey team then your own guy in Bordeleau seems a bit off base. And then to suggest that Bordeleau should do his “job” and beat Cooke up in the name of self-policing is both short-sighted and incomprehensible. Ban Cooke from hockey for a knee, but if not, let’s let our goon take him out! Sounds like a plan.

  5. avatar

    I say the Avalanche should take out on of the Wilds top players, an eye for an eye. Better yet take out two. Isn’t that the way of the NHL playoffs?

  6. avatar

    Anonymous nailed it. This is not a case of the code functioning as it traditionally has (nor, for the record, do I hear advocates of the code suggesting that Cooke should avoid official punishment, up to and including being barred from the league for good – as far as I’m concerned, he can leave and take John Scott and James Neal with him).
    And I’m sorry, Aves fans – you have a great coach and a team that’s fun to watch, but Colorado is Johnny come lately to the NHL – so you don’t get to waltz in and change the code that some teams have been playing under for almost a century just because you don’t like it.
    Don’t like the code? Don’t have an NHL team. Quebec would love to have their Nordiques back.

  7. avatar

    Question: knee on knee hit, aren’t both players vulnerable? Cheap hits are stick to face, boarding, elbowing and shots to the head. Just an observation.

  8. avatar

    This article is biased….Cooke is more than you make him out to be…he isn’t some useless player…he has 160+ NHL career goals, is a + player and plays 16+ minutes per game. Sure, he plays with an edge and crosses the line sometimes but to say that he serves no other purpose is just wrong…Nathan MacKinnon is my nephew….am I concerned when Cooke is on the ice with him? Yup….but it’s hockey…and you have to have awareness. when a guy like Cooke is on the ice even if he has been clean for 3 years.

  9. avatar

    I believe Cooke has been a VERY effective penalty killer for the WIld this year. This seems to be overlooked a great deal and does not fit everybody’s hasty reviews of his season.

  10. avatar

    The league has removed one safeguard against headhunting by adding the instigator penalty and not replaced it. I understand the decision but they need to deal with the unintended consequence. If they held coaches and teams accountable for this behavior it would stop.

  11. avatar

    No, no, no
    Up the suspensions, up the fines
    Take out the goons, lessen the staged fighting
    Make the league an actual skilled league instead of having teams employ a John Scott, or a Patrick bordeleau for the purpose of stirring trouble and hsving very rare offensive prowess
    This “hockey code”is ridiculous

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