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Canucks and Beyond

Cooke’s Evolution

A lot of the criticism of Mario Lemieux and his stand against violence on the ice has come—justifiably—as a result of his employment of Matt Cooke.  But for the NHL and for Lemieux himself, I would argue that Cooke’s long suspension couldn’t have come at a better time.  For Lemieux, it allows him to put his money where his mouth is by not arguing with the league about the tough penalty imposed on his most contentious player. And for the league, they finally had an opportunity to slam a player hard for his on-ice behavior, in a situation that absolutely no one was going to argue about. 

As Elliotte Friedman of CBC said yesterday, “Campbell’s been thrown a belt-high fastball. Now he’s got to crush it.”  And so he did.  Finally, a good PR outcome out of a bad PR situation. 

But reading the editorials in recent days, I’ve been struck by how one-dimensional most people’s view of Cooke is.  It’s like he’s been cast as a character from a horror movie that was born as pure evil, making up for his lack of hockey skills by using dirty tricks. 

It’s an overly-simplistic view of Cooke’s career, in my opinion.

One thing that has come up repeatedly in the comments we’ve seen around KK and the media is that Lemieux always knew what he was getting when signing Cooke out of Vancouver. That he already had a bad reputation as “dirty” and if Lemieux truly cared about on-ice violence, he wouldn’t have signed him.  I don’t think that’s entirely fair to Lemieux or Cooke.

As a Vancouver fan, the player I remember was a lot of things… and yes, “dirty” is absolutely a fair description of a lot of his nonsense. Behind the play he was a master of the role of The Pest.  He’d get guys off their game with words, with trips, with hits from behind. 

What he didn’t do, however, was go out and recklessly attempt to injure people nearly every time he played. 

But didn’t something seem to change with Cooke, in about the last 5 years?  My impression was that he seemed to morph from a player who was a hated “pest” to a player who seemed to make deliberately dangerous choices on the ice almost every game.  I’m not going to defend those changes, nor can I begin to speak for Cooke about what created that transition in his game,  but to me, he seems like a different player.

When I think back to when Lemieux took a chance on Cooke for his Penguins, I think it’s possible that in his mind, he wasn’t signing Psycho Cooke but rather, Pain-in-the-Ass Cooke.  A player who could change a game by flying all over the ice like a gladiator on meth, who could will his entire team to lift their energy when things were going bad. He wasn’t ‘clean’, per se, but he always knew where the line was and knew how to straddle it very well, even if he did cross it, too.

That’s the kind of player I remember Cooke used to be. Someone who went back and forth over that line, but not nearly the way he’s behaved in recent years… 

In today’s Province, Gordon MacIntyre makes a distinction that’s important:

Of course, there’s a difference between being a gritty player, sandpaper, as players call it, and being dirty.

Kesler, Glass, Alex Burrows and newcomer Maxim Lapierre have all driven opponents to distraction with their pesky ways, trash talk and the odd face wash.

There is a difference, however, between grit and hitting a guy in the head from behind.

A major difference. And while Cooke was never—by any stretch of the imagination—an angel in how he played his game, I used to view him as more sandpaper than psycho.

Maybe I’m remembering things wrong? Probably some things.  But what I do know for sure is this: in Cooke’s best days as a Canuck, he was a very useful and effective player who could change a game with his energy, and usually (though not always, I realize) without hurting his team or anyone else. 

Apparently those days are long gone, though perhaps this suspension will cause him to reflect on what his game should be. That is: an effective, hated pest who knows where the line is and helps his team with great energy and great penalty killing. 

It would certainly be a nice change from the ‘escapee from a lunatic asylum’ image he’s been cultivating in recent years.  But one way or another, he’d better figure it out because if he ever does anything like this again, he deserves to leave the game forever. 

 

Filed in: nhl general, vancouver canucks, | Canucks and Beyond | Permalink
  Tags: mario+lemieux, matt+cooke

Comments

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He’d get guys off their game with words, with trips, with hits from behind.

What he didn’t do, however, was go out and recklessly attempt to injure people nearly every time he played.

The notion that trips and hits from behind are acceptable forms of intentional behavior as long as a player isn’t intentionally hurt is what causes recklessness and the transformation from a pest to “beyond a pest.”

It’s as if the guy has been given a gun and allowed to only take “knee-shots,” no “head shots” or other kills shots.  It’s bad either way to give the guy the gun.  Players shouldn’t be encouraged to trip and hit players illegally because this is the type of play that causes injuries.  There’s no mystery to how Cooke went from being a pest to being a criminally insane headhunter.  With enough encouragement from up above and a continuous redrawing of the line that can’t get crossed, Cooke eventually found himself on the other side and unable to come back.

Posted by Toma (3:10 To Overtime) on 03/22/11 at 05:45 PM ET

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Good stuff.

When Pittsburgh signed him I was not happy, as I had watched his antics in Vancouver, but he came to Pittsburgh to play hockey. His first season and a half in Pittsburgh he was a model player, everything mentioned above minus the dirty. I observed him become a fan favourite, and he completely won me over by the end of the first season with his gritty play, playing on the “edge” but not passing it.

He had signed a two-year contract, and by the end of that second season, I saw ‘things’ slowly creep back into his game. He was re-singed last offseason, and with that security (I believe), he’s gone back to over the edge, careless Matt Cooke.

Before his four game suspension this season (he did change after that - opportunities for hits passed up, too many that would’ve been clean) he would argue ANY call against him - like “Me thinks he doth protest too much.”

He’s a smart player and over his 15+ years playing serious hockey, figured out all the ins and outs of ‘agitating’ and playing at and just over “the line.” He got to a place where he felt he had to argue every call, all game long, as to show how ‘innocent’ he really was.

That’s what I’ve observed watching every game of his in the last three seasons, and keeping a closer eye on him than others, because I didn’t like him to start with.

There was a different look in his eyes after his elbow the other day, and he didn’t argue anything, I think finally something clicked for him. Probably mostly losing $300 000 in one season, and his teammates opinions about his play.

Though he’s said the right things the last couple days - “I made a mistake. I’m the one that’s accountable for that. I take full responsibility for it. I’m sorry to my teammates, my management, my coaching staff and my organization. It’s something that, moving forward, I’ll make different,” he doesn’t mention being sorry about the guys he’s hit and hurt.

Posted by NathanBC on 03/22/11 at 05:45 PM ET

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So if Lemieux didn’t sign psycho Cooke are we to believe that the Penguins allowed him or even groomed him to be psycho Cooke? Did Cooke’s game evolve on its own to distinguish himself from similar third line players or was there an external factor (such as the NHLs lack of discipline) that allowed it to fester?.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 03/22/11 at 05:47 PM ET

Alanah McGinley's avatar

Toma - I want to quickly address your comment because I’m concerned that I wasn’t very clear.  I agree with you that it absolutely was NOT alright that he ever has done things like ‘hits from behind’ and other dirty crap. You’re absolutely right. 

I guess my point, though, is that I do see a distinction between his old style crap and his current behavior in that these last years he’s behaved in a way that seems more “malicious” to me.  Does that make sense?  I don’t mean to argue that the cheap shot stuff he did before was better behavior, only that he seemed to have a level of restraint back then that he doesn’t have now.

Posted by Alanah McGinley from British Columbia on 03/22/11 at 05:55 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Until the league does something more than it has to this point, Players Like Cooke will continue to do what they do, You have to get Cementheads like Burke out of positions of power 1st, But when Milbury is calling Gilles & Martin basically jokes & not Hockey players. That is a Good start


All these people who are positively orgasmic will be ripping Rectum Campbell when he slaps the hand of the next player

That is the problem they don’t see, They love that Cooke finally got nailed, but they miss the case of Dick Swinging by Campbell to show Mario who’s Boss, This is the guy who gave a Barbarian like Gillies 9Games for Running halfway across the ice to elbow Tangradi in the head, Throw punches at a concussed player who still hasn’t played since then & then taunt him from the runway, What was Tangradi’s crime, Crushed 2 Isles D Men with checks, Then 60 seconds into his 1st game after the suspension what does Eggbrain do? Elbows Cal Clutterbuck in the head after Clutterbuck had a dangerous hit on a Isles player & Rectum gives him 10 Games

Posted by Evilpens on 03/22/11 at 06:08 PM ET

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Evilpens you’re right , Clutterbuck should have gotten at least 5. It took Gillies two attempts to get what it took Cooke five attempts. If Cooke would have gotten a 10 and a 9 to start off with he wouldn’t be in the position he is today.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 03/22/11 at 06:14 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Cooke as dirty as he is He CAN be a Good 3rd Line Player/Energy Guy & PKer the Pens really needed him last night against the Wings

Gillies is a No Talent Gorilla He has No discernible hockey Skill

Posted by Evilpens on 03/22/11 at 06:17 PM ET

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Alanah, he’s new, so you might not know about it, but just as an FYI, Max Lapierre’s isn’t a pest like Burrows. He’s a cheapshot artist in the mold of 2011 Cooke, but ‘contributes’ a lot less frequently (good and ill), which is why a 3rd liner with decent career numbers keeps getting bounced by teams for a song. Don’t be surprised if he gets the Canucks into hot water down the road.

Nathan summed up my thoughts, otherwise, except that I don’t buy Cooke’s mea culpa as meaning anything beyond ‘my boss is pissed and Kunitz yelled at me’.

Posted by steviesteve on 03/22/11 at 06:21 PM ET

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I fail to see how “skill” exonerates a player for their actions. Clean up the “agitators” and “pests” that seek to injure other players and make the “gorillas” obsolete. As long as the “skilled” killers are allowed to walk, the NHL will continue to find a role for the “neaderthals” like Godard and Gillies. There are plenty of third line players that can PK and score throughout the league to make me believe that those that continually step over the line are vital.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 03/22/11 at 06:36 PM ET

awould's avatar

I don’t understand why the fact that Matt Cooke CAN be a good contributor keeps coming up. He actually has talent! When he’s not wacking guys with a flying elbow or making blindside dirty hits, he’s got real talent!

Who cares? He’s dirty. His actions prove it, over and over. I do get it of course, that the distinction implied is that these other guys are just goons and it’s their only purpose and they have no talent beyond that. But dirty is dirty and Cooke can go mop floors somewhere, or become a real asset to the KHL, instead of trying to take off a guys head every week. Seriously, what will the NHL miss by booting a guy like Cooke? A sometimes effective 3rd liner who is always a risk to end a guys career by doing something stupid? I think the NHL is better off without him. I understand the Pens would miss him, but in the long run they’d be ok too. Heck, they’re doing ok without the likes of Crosby and Malkin right now.

I just don’t buy into the argument that because he actually can be an effective player means his antics should be overlooked in any way. Even with this latest and very deserved suspension, I still see people using that defense or excuse. Just get rid of the dude. There needs to be limits to what is allowed and multiple suspensions should get you suspended from the league and eventually banned outright. And the NHLPA should be firmly behind this since it is to protect their members.

Posted by awould on 03/22/11 at 06:39 PM ET

Down River Dan's avatar

So many better and more desrving stories out there. If Andy Warhol was correct, enjoy your 15 min matt.

And now for something completely different…......Please.

Posted by Down River Dan on 03/22/11 at 06:51 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

hockey1919 I hate talentless players like Godard & Gilles! I hate the staged Goon fight even more, But Cooke is the # 1 PK pairing on the Best PK team in the league

I wish he would stop the stupid Shit, But he can’t even be compared to Talentless Goons Like Godard & Gillies.


& Godard will not be resigned by the Pens & some other team will hire him

Posted by Evilpens on 03/22/11 at 07:08 PM ET

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Until the league does something more than it has to this point, Players Like Cooke will continue to do what they do
All these people who are positively orgasmic will be ripping Rectum Campbell when he slaps the hand of the next player
Posted by Evilpens on 03/22/11 at 04:08 PM ET

Second’ed.

Posted by NathanBC on 03/22/11 at 07:25 PM ET

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But he can’t even be compared to Talentless Goons Like Godard & Gillies.

He absolutely can.  No amount of talent can forgive the way he plays.  In fact, I could argue that he’s worse than Gillies because he will always have people excusing his play because he can play well.

It’s easy to get rid of a guy like Gillies.  If he continues to take stupid penalties and continues to sit for multiple games and then make stupid, dangerous hits in his first game back then eventually people will give up on him and he’ll end up playing in that Quebec fighting league.  With guys like Cooke, there’s almost always going to be someone willing to bring him into the fold because of his abilities, willing to take the chance that he might injure someone and have to sit for a while.

Posted by Garth on 03/22/11 at 08:11 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

If it’s “SO easy” why do they keep them ?

Posted by Evilpens on 03/22/11 at 08:35 PM ET

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I think Cooke has played for the Penguins longer than Gillies has played for the Islanders, so there is a good chance that Gillies is one and done. Cooke who has been suspended even prior to Gillies coming to the NHL (I know it is a shock), has two more years on his contract. What is sickening about Cooke is that he doesn’t HAVE to do the things he does in order to stay in the NHL if he is as GOOD as hockey player as you say he is.  Gillies and Godard simply have no choice, but to be what they are if they are to make it to the NHL.

There is also the theory that those players exist solely to deter the actions of a players like Cooke. The “agititators” that have the speed and ability to target the better players and not just other large sloths. Islander fans would even say that bringing up Gillies to start the season was a REACTION to the cheap hits on Tavares all of last season that went unpunished when they didn’t have a Gillies or Konopka in the lineup. When you are in a division with the Flyers(Carcillo, Shelley) and Penguins (Godard, Cooke) , you better arm up or fall behind. Or at least that is the rationale the Penguins had for bringing in Asham and Godard because they were afraid of the Flyers.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 03/23/11 at 11:39 AM ET

GZ Expat's avatar

To help illustrate Cooke’s role with Vancouver…

When Bertuzzi was tossed aside after the Moore incident, it was Matt Cooke that was moved up to the top line with Naslund and Morrison.  At the time, it was thought his offensive skills were the best fit for the line.  For his part…he didn’t produce.

Cookie always wanted to be THAT player…but, for whatever reason, it never really materialized like it did in jrs (95 pts with the Spitfires in 96-97).  So, he fell back on what got him to the NHL in the first place…being a pest. 

It sort of hurts to hear his name associated with some of the dirtiest players in the game…because, I always thought he was an intelligent player with decent hands and could really grind it out.

Posted by GZ Expat on 03/23/11 at 05:51 PM ET

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About Canucks and Beyond

Alanah McGinley has been blogging hockey since 2003 (with a notable gap in time through 2010, kicking it with new baby Lucy while living knee-deep in chaos while reading "parenting for complete idiots" during every spare minute) sharing opinions, rants and not-so-deep thoughts with anyone who will listen.

In addition to writing Canucks & Beyond and helping manage Kukla's Korner, Alanah was one of the founders and co-hosts of The Crazy Canucks Podcast. She has contributed pieces to FoxSports.com and the New York Times Slapshot blog, as well as other stray destinations in cyberspace.

So that's me. Who the hell are you? smile

Email: am@kuklaskorner.com

Alanah's Twitter: [@alanah1]