Guilt by Reputation.

 It’s been over a week since Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson’s season was ended when the left skate of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke lacerated Karlsson’s left Achilles tendon.

In the immediate aftermath, I stated Karlsson’s injury was accidental and there was no obvious malicious intent on Cooke’s part to injure the Senators star. Media and fan consensus arrived at a similar conclusion.

Looking at the replays, it was apparent Cooke never meant to injure the Senators star. He was simply trying to check Karlsson, and as the pair jostled along the boards, the left skate of the off-balance Cooke accidentally sliced down into Karlsson’s lower left leg.

Unfortunately, that’s not how Senators GM Bryan Murray, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and a few NHL pundits saw it.

Murray was furious following that game, suggesting Cooke’s action was a deliberate attempt to injure Karlsson. A few days later, a seething Melnyk declared there was no place for players like Cooke in today’s NHL.

Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun declared Cooke deserved suspension because of the reckless manner in which he checked Karlsson.

Brennan acknowledged nobody knows if Cooke was acting intentionally, but nevertheless felt the Penguins winger was “criminally careless”.  Brennan also believed Cooke didn’t just hurt Karlsson and the Senators, but robbed the league of a great star for the rest of the season.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post was another scribe who felt Cooke got away with recklessness.

Injuries are an unfortunate part of the NHL. Pro hockey is a high-speed, physical game, and sometimes players – including the very best – get hurt, usually by accident.

Had it been any other player than Cooke – who has a well-deserved reputation for deliberately attempting to injure opponents – no one would’ve suggested the incident was anything other than accidental.

NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan didn’t buy into the guilt by reputation meme, and made the correct judgement that the injury to Karlsson was accidental.

I’ve certainly been no fan of Matt Cooke over most of his career. I was furious he received no supplemental discipline for essentially ending Marc Savard’s career with a vicious blindside elbow, and called for his permanent suspension after he tried a similar stunt a year later against NY Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

If it were apparent Cooke deliberately stomped on Karlsson’s leg, just as Chris Simon did to Jarkko Ruutu or Chris Pronger to Ryan Kesler, I’d be among those calling for his permanent suspension.

But it was obvious the injury was accidental. If the NHL were to suspend Cooke for recklessness, most of its players would also have to be punished for similar reckess use of their skates, even if they didn’t injure their opponents.

The game is played on ice by players wearing skates with razor-sharp blades. Even the best skaters can get knocked off balance jostling with a rival player. Penalizing them for it, even if they accidentally injure an opponent  as a result, is ridiculous.

It should also be remembered Cooke isn’t the dirty player he used to be.

Since receiving a seventeen-game suspension for attempting to injure McDonagh, Cooke acknowledged he had to change his ways or risk a permanent suspension from the NHL. After three-straight seasons with 100-plus PIMs, Cooke last season had only 44 PIMs, earning praise for cleaning up his game.

One season, however,  doesn’t undo the reputation he earned as the league’s dirtiest player. When Cooke’s skate sliced Eriksson’s tendon, the automatic assumption by some observers was this leopard didn’t really change his spots, and had somehow devised a new – though very awkward – way of injuring a player and getting away with it.

I understand why Melnyk, Murray and Senators fans were upset. Karlsson is a superstar, the defending Norris Trophy winner, and arguably the Senators best player. Losing him after Jason Spezza was sidelined by back surgery is a serious blow to the Senators playoff hopes.

Still, just because Cooke once had a reputation as a dirty player is no reason to suspend him for accidentally injuring a player on what would’ve otherwise been a harmless play.



  1. Where is there the mention that the league that accepted these useless socks instead of accepting socks reinforced with Kevlar by their official suppliers? We all knew they were crap and I know it has been brought up before but here we are blaming the players.

    • If Cooke was on the Coyotes, he would have been suspended for 20+ games.

  2. I have to disagree with the comment left by WHS saying that “if Cooke was on the Coyotes he would have been suspended for 20+ games.”
    No matter what team Cooke played for, if his actions were deemed deliberate by league disciplinarian Brenden Shanahan he would have been suspended quite likey for life. He is a previous multiple offender and is on his “one final last chance” in the NHL and the fact that he is on the Penguins didn’t make one iota of difference, especially to Shanahan, who had proven that he’s fair and honest in dispatching discipline.
    Even I as a fan of Karlsson and not a fan of Cooke I could not honestly come to the conclusion that it was a deliberate attempt to injure. If after viewing the check time and time again I thought for one second that Cooke’s actions were deliberate I would be relentless in my criticism but the only conclusion that I can come up with is that it was a very unfortunate, as well as avoidable, accident. Nothing more – nothing less.
    If it had been anyone other than Cooke there would not have been any debate but because, as Lyle pointed out, because it was Cooke he is guilty because of his past actions and previous reputation.

  3. Ahab: Shannahan fair? Do you remember the Wiz/Clutterbuck incident? A “defenseless” guy that gets a facewash. lol. Granted Shanny is usually better than Campbell but some people/teams do get less-than-preferrential fair treatment. If that were not the case, the Red Wings would be broke from paying fines for slew-footing (which never really seems to get called on them).

    I don’t believe Cooke’s intention was to injure but I would really like to know what, then, was he steeping down on (with force)? He knew where Karlsson’s leg was because Cooke’s knee was up his butt, so why step forward into the area in which a foot is usually attached? That part has never been explained. And I don’t buy any excuse about he is just putting his foot down to regain balance or whatnot because he does that well enough on his way away from the play and he wasn’t off-balance to begin with. Reckless? maybe. Careless? certainly.

    • Hi Dan:
      I believe if Shanahan was biased one way or the other towards certain teams he would be called out not only by the press but also owners and GM’s. Don’t say that owners or managers are muzzled because of possible fines because if they thought that paying twenty, thirty or even a hundred grand could get their players lesser suspensions they would gladly write the check while beaking off to anyone who would listen.
      Now as far as explaining Cooke’s actions regarding his foot and how hard he put it down along with where, I can’t give you an answer other than to say that after watching a sports show that showed a number of other players doing exactly the same thing, I am still of the opinion that it was an accident. Cooke’s modus operandi has always been his elbow with the opponents head being the target, so to say that he decided to start aiming for players Achilles tendons and in the heat of the moment knew exactly what he was doing with Karlsson is giving him way too much credit.
      Why has there not been examples given showing him doing the exact same maneuver over and over again. Do you think if Ottawa’s owner could have found a pattern of recklessness or even carelessness that he wouldn’t have trotted those videos out to show the media? I bet he had staff looking at every game Cooke played before addressing the media and going on his anti-Cooke rant and if it was there we would have seen it.
      Sadly, especially for Cooke if it was an accident, no one will ever know but him. After being judged in the court of public opinion and being found guilty by Ottawa fans, Karlsson fans and Cooke hatters he will never be able to prove his innocence and we his guilt, but he will always wear this albatross around his neck no matter how hard he tries to change his image.

  4. i can understand Ottawa being upset that they’ve lost one their most dynamic players but this play was simply an unfortunate accident. Kevin Bieksa has been cut twice by skates and the second time he was the player doing the hitting so it happens both ways. i suspect if the situation had been reversed Ottawa would’ve had no problem with it.