Matt Cooke: Once a Hockey Goon, Always a Hockey Goon?

Anyone who still doubts that NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan is really really bad at his job comes Reason No. 345,458,945,678 why Shanahan needs to be fired: He thinks it’s perfectly fine that Pittsburgh Penguins assassin thug goon forward Matt Cooke sliced the Achilles’ tendon of Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, ending the star’s season.

That’s right; the head of the department of player safety doesn’t think cutting 70 percent of a player’s Achilles’ tendon is an issue.

Judge for yourself: The incident first happens about 7 seconds into this clip, but watch for replays from different angles that show a clear stomping motion by Cooke.


Did I mention that the 22-year-old Karlsson is won the Norris Trophy last season as the best defenseman in the entire league? And that Cooke is a known goon who has a long record of infractions. He almost singlehandedly ended the career of the Boston Bruins’ Marc Savard with a vicious hit. Cooke last earned a suspension in 2011 when he attacked New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonogh high. That earned the goon a suspension for the Penguins’ final 10 regular-season games and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs — so he’s no innocent lamb who got caught up in an accidental incident. He’s a seasoned pro with a longstanding reputation as a cheap-shot artist who is not afraid to intentionally inflict harm on opposing players.

The attack accident injury happened Wednesday night when Karlsson was cut by Cooke’s blade as the two tangled along the boards during the Senators’ 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh. Sens general manager Bryan Murray said Karlsson felt he ”got directed and got cut with a skate that shouldn’t be where it was.”

Karlsson screams in agony as his Achilles' tendon is slashed.

Karlsson screams in agony as his Achilles’ tendon is slashed. Was it an accident?

The NHL’s Department of Player safety reviewed the incident and felt no supplementary discipline was required.  Murray said, “The league suggested it was a hockey play gone bad, and I suggested Matt Cooke has somewhat of a history and maybe that should be considered as well, but I don’t believe that’s the approach they took. They took it as the individual act.”

Yep, once again, Shanahan refused to even hold a hearing on another atrocious incident, and the NHL is imposing no fines or suspension. Perhaps it was because just a couple of weeks ago Shanahan mentioned Cooke by name as an example of a goon who had turned his game around under Shanahan’s tutelage. Can’t have him going all recidivist now, can we? But who knows what (of anything) goes on inside Shanahan’s skull?

Strangely, a lot of hockey writers are rushing to Cooke’s defense and perversely taking the counter-intuitive position that because Cooke is just a cheap goon, he’s not getting a fair shake for this “accident.” Well, after seasons of cross-checking and elbowing and high sticks, Cooke is reaping what he sowed for so many seasons. He very carefully and methodically over a long period of time cultivated the image of an on-ice monster, and now writers are acting outraged that he’s being treated as a monster?

So Cooke is free to “accidentally” injure more skill players while one of the best defensemen in the world lies in a hospital bed after season-ending (hopefully not career-ending) surgery. It’s been suggested by Cooke partisans that suspending him won’t heal Karlsson’s leg. True, but suspending the thug will prevent him from injuring any more skilled players.

Cooke runs Karlsson into the boards seconds before the "incident."

Cooke runs Karlsson into the boards seconds before the gruesome on-ice “incident.”

Now, honestly, I admit that it’s hard to discern an intentional stomping from a freak accidental slicing – but the fact that Shanahan refused to even examine the situation seriously — again, because Cooke is a notorious goon — is sickening. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t intentional – but wasn’t it at the very least reckless? Players all held responsible for their sticks at all times; how about being responsible for the dangerous weapons laced onto their feet? Shanahan should have at least conducted a full investigation – bring in the players, get testimony, etc. Not doing so is to spit in the face of Karlsson, the Senators and their fans. But what else should I expect from Shanahan, whose trademark is jaw-dropping non-calls as well as stunningly harsh out-of-the-blue punishments? It’s easier to just make shit up and issue decrees from some office on Mount Olympus.

Honestly, it feels like every time Shanahan’s office announces a decision I get more and more embarrassed that he played for my Rangers…

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