If you want to get even more angry at Matt Cooke this morning, just Google the phrase "Matt Cooke changed" and behold the numerous links to stories written by my colleagues in the hockey media.
Scores of words have been spilled about the Minnesota Wild left winger, attempting to put a nice face on a player whose biggest contributions at the NHL level have revolved around the ending of seasons and even careers of his opponents. Sure, it's easy to fall in love with a sweet off-ice story, about how Cooke re-dedicated himself to his family after his wife had a serious health scare (which, let's be clear, I wouldn't wish on anybody), about how he's a charitable man who gives so much of himself to those in need…but that doesn't change who he is on the ice: a danger to anyone in the wrong-colored jersey.
I have a theory that the oft-suspended Cooke has been given so much leeway lately because he stopped fighting. In fact, he hasn't dropped the gloves since February of 2011 when he was rushed by Columbus' Derick Brassard. Guess what led to the altercation?
But Cooke is now a changed man, I've been told. The vocal anti-fighting minority loved his narrative: He once was lost, but now was found. He had seen the light and would play the game "the right way." Just ignore the fact he destroyed Erik Karlsson's 2012-13 campaign on a hit that went unpunished, but still left the uber-talented Swede with a sliced Achilles tendon.
Did Cooke intend to step on Karlsson? I wouldn't claim that. But I contend he was either trying to slew-foot the Senators defenseman or at least drive him into the boards from behind. It was a careless play that 99 percent of NHLers would never attempt.
His supporters in the media crowed when Cooke began his Minnesota career with six points in his first six games, though we hadn't heard as much out of them in the last 76 contests, when he netted just 22 points. I know his teammates will stick up for him because that's what teammates do. They'll claim that they hated him as Penguin, but love him as a member of the Wild. At some point, somebody – maybe even Cooke himself – will utter the phrase "you never want to see a guy get hurt out there," but that's all Cooke ever really accomplishes. What do you call a goon who doesn't fight?
Cooke has an in-person hearing for the Barrie hit and I would hope that we don't see the veteran for the rest of the playoffs. Because he will do something heinous again. A tiger can't change its stripes and a rat cannot hide its tail forever.