By John Rolfe
Try as he might to live down his hard-earned reputation as the NHL's dirtiest and most dangerous player, Matt Cooke can't seem to escape the long shadow of suspicion. That becomes an increasingly difficult task when he continues to deliver potentially catastrophic hits like the knee-on-knee shot (one of the most common weapons in his dark arsenal) that will sideline Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie for four to six weeks. Cooke's misdeed in Game 3 of Minnesota's first round series against Colorado on Monday night moved the NHL's Department of Player Safety to summon the Wild forward for a little face-to-face in New York City on Wednesday. Cooke, who had drawn praise and even defenders for supposedly reforming his ugly game, had managed to stay out of the hoosegow, so to speak, since March 2011, but an in-person hearing usually heralds a stretch of more than five games. And sure enough, he got seven.
It wasn't the longest suspension of his checkered (black and blue) career, but should it have been?
Cooke's rap sheet -- which is as long as your proverbial arm -- couldn't be ignored. The NHL was allowed to consider him a "repeat offender" under the terms of the new Collective Bargaining agreement, which scrubs a player's record every 18 months only with regard to how much pay he'll forfeit.
SI VAULT: "The Public Enemy" by Michael Farber (3/14/11)
First, we have Cooke's five previous suspensions:
1. Feb. 21, 2004: Two games for spearing Minnesota's Matt Johnson.
2. Jan. 27, 2009: Two games for a head shot to Carolina's Scott Walker.
3. Nov. 28, 2009: Two games for elbowing New York Ranger Artem Anisimov.
4. Feb. 9, 2011: Four games for boarding Columbus's Fedor Tyutin.
5. March 21, 2011: Seventeen games, including the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs for elbowing New York Ranger Ryan McDonagh.
"I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change," Cooke told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That's what I wanted my message to be."
And for a time, he began to win over some hearts. SI.com's Michael Farber winkingly hailed Cooke as deserving of the Lady Byng Trophy in a March 2012 column entitled "Cooke proves change is possible," and our own Stu Hackel gave him the benefit of the doubt after an unfortunate incident in which Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon was severed by Cooke's skate in February 2013.
But the mayhem, by design or not, was continuing without supplemental punishment, adding to a list of incidents that were piling up like so many bodies in the cellar.
March 11, 2014: Cooke injures Edmonton's Sam Gagner with nasty hit.
March 8, 2014: Delivers knee-on-knee to Dallas's Valeri Nichushkin (two minutes for tripping).
June 2, 2013: Boards Boston’s Adam McQuaid (five minute major, game misconduct)
Feb. 6, 2011: Delivers knee-on-knee hit to Washington's Alex Ovechkin (two minutes for tripping).
Feb. 4, 2011: Sucker punches Buffalo's Steve Montador (two minutes for roughing, 10 minute misconduct).
Dec. 28, 2010: Elbows Atlanta's Evander Kane (no penalty).
Dec. 21, 2010: Elbows Phoenix's Keith Yandle (two minutes for roughing).
Nov. 26, 2010: Boards Ottawa's Erik Karlsson (two minutes).
Oct. 11, 2010: Runs New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro (three interference minors).
March 7, 2010: Elbows Boston's Marc Savard, concussing him and ending his career.
Cooke's hit, which did not draw a penalty or a suspension, inspired this diatribe by Don Cherry:
Two weeks later, the league enacted a new rule prohibiting blindside blows to the head like the one Cooke laid on Savard.
Feb. 6, 2010: Cross-checks Montreal's Andrei Markov in the back.
June 2, 2009: Kicks Detroit's Chris Osgood in the head.
May 18, 2009: Delivers knee-on-knee hit to Carolina's Erik Cole.
March 16, 2009: Delivers a knee-on-knee hit to Atlanta's Zach Bogosian.
November 29, 2008: Delivers blindside hit on New Jersey's Zach Parise (two minutes for roughing)
Feb. 16, 2008: Delivers blindside hit on Edmonton's Mathieu Roy.
There are more, but we're blocking. So if you were in Stephane Quintal's brogans, what would you have done? In the real world, this kind of recidivism would surely draw a nice long stretch in the jug even if Cooke's latest hit was unintentional.
And come to think of it, how do you decide when to put someone back on the road if they have a long history of reckless driving and causing wrecks?
Does he belong down here?