Pittsburgh Penguins

Matt Cooke Injures Erik Karlsson, Was It Intentional?

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 13:  Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins collects a game misconduct penalty at the end of the game against the Ottawa Senators during the game at Consol Energy Center on February 13, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins won 4-2.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Kevin JamesonCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2013

By now you know Erik Karlsson left Wednesday night’s contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins late in the second period after suffering a lacerated Achilles tendon on a hit by Matt Cooke.

Your preconceptions of Cooke will determine whether or not you believe he intentionally sliced Karlsson’s leg with his skate blade. At first blush, it appears that Cooke’s skate comes down on Karlsson’s ankle as a result of the impact of hitting the boards.

Slow it down and watch it 20 times, though, and you can convince yourself that Cooke purposefully stomped on Karlsson’s leg.

That is, if you can also convince yourself that Cooke can target another person’s ankle while looking in the complete opposite direction.

Had it been, say, Tyler Kennedy slicing the leg of, say, Andre Benoit, the question of intent would last for about five minutes.

But Cooke has a reputation from years of flying elbows and cross checks and high sticks, and Karlsson is arguably the best defenseman in the NHL, so we feel compelled to have this discussion.

Cooke has spent the last season doing everything in his power to stay out of the principal’s office, almost to the point of rendering his game ineffective. He’s a third-line grinder with limited offensive skills who is at his best when he’s agitating his opponents with face-washes after the whistle, sneaky little slashes and cross checks, hard hits, etc.

This is his role on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby is on the ice to score, Brooks Orpik is on the ice to hit people and block shots, Matt Cooke is on the ice to frustrate opposing players.

But his history of suspensions and fines has left him little wiggle room in the eyes of NHL disciplinarians, so he’s had to adjust.

So what does a guy who doesn’t score a lot and isn’t a great passer do if he’s too cautious to lay hard checks or mix it up after the whistle? Well, last season, with the absence of Sidney Crosby for most of the year and Evgeni Malkin for part of it, Cooke ratcheted up his offensive game.

Cooke played in all 82 games in 2011-2012 and registered a career high in goals (19) and shots (147) while spending only 44 minutes in the penalty box. Compare that to the previous season, where he played in only 67 games (missing several of those 15 games for disciplinary reasons), scored 12 goals and spent a whopping 129 minutes in the sin bin.

So after taking his game to new offensive heights last season and getting an opportunity last night to play alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal (a line on which he looked pretty good, becoming the first player this season to register an even-strength point playing alongside the two superstars), he would throw it all away by trying to injure someone?

Why? Why would Cooke—who has spent the last season-plus doing everything he can to stay out of trouble—suddenly decide he wanted to use his skate blade to hack apart someone’s Achilles tendon?

If you answer like Senators GM Brian Murray did (“It’s Matt Cooke”), you should probably work a littler harder for a reason.

Brendan Shanahan has decided that his panel of justice-seekers will not be calling Cooke into their offices to discuss Wednesday night’s incident, and that’s the right move.

Sens fans and management are understandably hot about this. They are already without their best offensive player, Jason Spezza, for an indeterminate amount of time due to a back injury. Losing their best defenseman is just piling on.

These things happen. Hockey is played at insanely fast speeds. Sometimes people get hurt. In fact, people get hurt all the time. It’s a shame this happened to one of the NHL’s most exciting players, and for the sake of the Senators and the NHL, hopefully Karlsson will be ready to go by the start of the 2013-2014 campaign.

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