Matt Cooke came out with a few statements yesterday saying he needs to change and that he will follow up those words with actions. In fact, he stated a few times that his "future" actions would speak for him. We all know his past actions have too, in ways that were less than flattering.
As someone who has watched him play for the past 3 years, I would like to think he can change, the question is, will he?
I have spoken out against his play on multiple occasions.
I have even stated the last time I posted here that maybe the costs of having Cooke are greater than the benefits. Implying that maybe it's time for him to go.
Mark Madden wrote an interesting column where he said...as long as the "Matt Cooke's" are allowed in the NHL, the Penguins should have one (so might as well have the best one). That's paraphrasing, of course, but the basis of a sound argument from someone who understands the game well.
I would love it if Cooke would play like he did...from the time he returned from his suspension up until the split second before his bone headed decision to elbow Mc Donagh the other night...for the rest of his career here in Pittsburgh. I believe, if he COULD do that, he would be here for quite a while longer.
The question becomes, is it possible to separate the player...and his way of thinking in those few seconds that cost him 14 (maybe more) games...from the player that was effective and productive right up until that moment?
The problem is compounded by the fact that throughout his career here in Pittsburgh, in fact up until his comments yesterday, we have never really seen Cooke remorseful for his bad behavior. His attitude always seems to have been more along the lines of "that wasn't my intention" even in situations where it clearly appeared to be his intention.
We are in a catch 22.
To believe him means that we have to accept the idea that, in the heat of the moment, he can tell right from wrong. Up until now, he has either been 1) incapable of doing that or 2) capable of doing it, he just chose not to.
If you believe the first part of that, then you have to fully buy into the idea he can change the way he thinks and plays the game...and hopefully still be as effective as he has been when he's not committing dumb, potentially injury inflicting penalties.
If you believe the second part of that, then you have to acknowledge that he has been telling white lies all along when it came to his intentions on hits he made that cost him and his team.
I am guessing reality is somewhere in between those two trains of thought. There have been some instances where Cooke's play has been less intentional than some believe and other instances where his intent was pretty clear. The incidents with Savard and McDonagh would certainly fall into the latter category in my book.
Because of what I have seen Cooke do when he is not playing like a complete goon...
Because of what I have heard the players on his team say about him up until the recent incident...
...And because of the fact that there are other players like Cooke in this league...and they will continue to be in this league...
I think Cooke deserves one LAST chance to change.
Let me defend myself for a moment...
I know a lot of other people that don't watch him daily, and only have the Sportscenter Highlights/Lowlights or the Don Cherry "Matt Cooke Goon Reel" to look at will find that comment ridiculous. They will cite a "hypocritical" Mario Lemieux and say the Penguins should lead by example if they are the ones who want to define what the "moral highground" should be.
I completely get that.
But let me ask those people to consider these things.
First, what if we could take the top 10 players that are "like" Cooke and have Sportscenter or Don Cherry compile the Goon Reel for each of them. I would be curious to see the number of plays these guys have been involved in (penalty, suspension or not) and whether or not their behavior is all that much different from Cooke's.
Again, I am not defending the last two incidents that got him suspended...not in the least. I am just saying...there are many more similarities with those other players than there are differences. Many more similarities to players on other teams whose fans are calling for Mario to drop Cooke like a hot potato.
And before anybody says this...YES...I believe Cooke should fight more...if that's part of the code that goes along with his style of play. But I also understand, like Avery, that his non-fighting is part of what makes him so frustrating to play against. And certainly one of the main reasons Cherry hates him.
Second, if Todd Bertuzzi can jump a guy from behind and beat him into the ice...and be given a second chance, shouldn't Cooke also be given this LAST chance?
Cooke has done some bad things. He may have started the end of Marc Savard's career. He COULD have severely injured McDonagh the other night. He has had other run-ins that were bad, although probably none as bad as these two most recent ones.
As much as I hated the Savard hit...at the time...players were allowed to think they could do that and get away with it, because the rules allowed for it. A dirty hit for sure...but technically not illegal at the time.
Obviously, this latest incident was a blatant violation of rules.
If over the course of his career, Cooke has compiled a resume that equals the Bertuzzi incident, then if Bertuzzi was given a second (or last) chance, shouldn't Cooke be given one as well?
As a hockey fan first...
A Penguin's fan second...
A fan of what Matt Cooke CAN do when he is playing the game the right way...
...IF Lemieux and the Penguins are willing to put their faith in what Cooke is saying... and keep him here for one last chance to change his game...
Then I am willing to support that decision.
I really hope for the sake of everybody involved, he can be a man of his word and come through.
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