It’s time for the National Hockey League Players’ Association to do what’s right and protect the victim and not the aggressor in league disciplinary matters. Furthermore, it’s also time to keep their promise of being partners with the league and not only support whatever suspension is given to Wild forward Matt Cooke but to discuss the possibility with them that maybe Cooke should be banned from playing in the NHL for at least a season if not life.
As I write this, the NHL and NHL Department Of Player Safety are meeting with Cooke, his lawyer, a Wild team rep, and an NHLPA rep to decide what the proper punishment will be for Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals series between those two teams. Cooke clearly targeted Barrie’s knee in what was another predatory hit by this repeat offender and, because of that, it was expected that he would receive a hefty suspension. But clearly suspensions haven’t and likely won’t ever change this player who seems to thrive off injuring opposing players. Yes, Cooke had much of the hockey world fooled when he cleaned up his act over the last two seasons. He was even nominated by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the 2012 Lady Byng Trophy awarded to the league’s most gentlemanly player as everyone seemed to think he was “reformed”. That seemed like a stretch then and it seems asinine now.
What’s even more asinine is how despite the fact that probably close to 100 percent of the NHLPA disagrees with Cooke’s actions and would either like him out of the NHL for good or to find him in a dark alley and do to him what they can’t get away with on the ice, they will stand by his side as he appeals whatever punishment he receives this time. Cooke has had his former employers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, speak out against him and even his former teammates like Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. But why won’t anyone speak out when it matters most and not stand by his side in appeals or league disciplinary matters? If the players truly care for one another and are united as a union as they claimed throughout the 2012 lockout, then defend Barrie in this case and work with the league to send Cooke a message that will once and for all either make him understand he can’t play the way he does and if he continues then he’s banned for life like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in baseball. Yes, what they allegedly did was unethical and violated the integrity of the game, but did they ever end the career of a fellow player as Cooke did with his head shot on Marc Savard in 2010? To me that is just as, if not more, unethical than gambling on the sport you play in.
Last month marked the tenth anniversary of then-Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi‘s vicious attack on then-Avalanche forward Steve Moore that ended Moore’s career. Bertuzzi served a lengthy suspension for the attack but is still making millions playing for the Detroit Red Wings while Moore struggles. Along with the NHL and Moore’s former team, the NHLPA has basically forgotten Moore and never went for bat with him the way they did for Bertuzzi when he was suspended. Why was the victim exiled then and still today?
Former NHLer Sean Avery is doing just fine these days as he follows his other dream of becoming a major player in the fashion business and even made an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars.” Chances are he’d still trade in the cool clothes and Broadway models to lace em up in the NHL again instead of being exiled for crossing the line verbally and telling the truth that Dion Phaneuf was dating (and is now married to) his sloppy seconds or Elisha Cuthbert. Another former NHL pest hasn’t had as much luck in what seems to be his post NHL life is Patrick Kaleta who played just seven games for Rochester in the AHL this season after being abandoned by his NHL employers the Buffalo Sabres due to repeated cheap shots and suspensions. In both cases the NHLPA did hardly anything to prevent these players from falling off the NHL grid. Will they now do the same to Cooke and let him fade away or will they continue to back him?
And note that this scribe has no issues with the way Avery and Kaleta have been forgotten by their NHLPA brothers but plenty with the way Moore was forgotten and Bertuzzi supported.
The superstar players of the league need to take action. Given Crosby is busy with the Stanley Cup Playoffs now, but he should release a statement condemning Cooke’s actions and supporting whatever suspension Cooke receives. Maybe Alexander Ovechkin — since he’s not too busy these days — could do the same. Then after the season, the powers that be in the NHLPA can get together with the NHL and make an ultimatum for Cooke where if he commits one more act like the knee-on-knee to Barrie or purposely endangers another player’s career, he goes the way of “Shoeless” Joe and “Charlie Hustle” and is banned for life from playing in the NHL. The players have a voice and it’s time to use to end Cooke’s reign of havoc on them!