Tue Mar 22 12:54am EDT
The NHL on Monday suspended Matt Cooke(notes) of the Pittsburgh Penguins for 10 regular-season games and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for his elbow to the head of the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh(notes).
Check that: The NHL suspended the old Matt Cooke.
The new Matt Cooke, obviously affected by this disciplinary punishment and the repercussions within his own team, met Pittsburgh reporters on Monday night with a vow to change his wicked ways. Which is a welcome change from when he would blame the victim for his reckless play.
"In the past, I've been very defensive and have argued my point," he said. "The (Players Association) talks, they argue their point; and your agent gets on and defends you a lot. … I realize and understand more so now than ever that I need to change. That was what I wanted my message to be."
It's a message that might ring hollow to anyone that's viewed his injurious body of work; lord knows Cooke has had previous opportunities for a come-to-hockey-Jesus moment of repentance. Rossi asked him: Why change now?
"I'm not going to get into describing the play; but in efforts to improve the game and to have respect for my teammates, my management, my ownership... I'm fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn't hurt. I don't want to hurt anybody. That's not my intention. I know that I can be better."
"My ownership" … you simply can't read that reference without thinking about Mario Lemieux's proactive stance on issues of player safety this year, and wondering what kind of heat has come down on Cooke this time for him to change. He embarrassed Mario. There's no other way to view it. Nick Kypreos reported that Cooke and his owner had a heart-to-heart Sunday, with Mario giving him the "shape up or ship out" ultimatum. Maybe that finally got through to him.
Or maybe it's the forfeiture of $219,512.20 in salary, and the threat of what's to come next from the NHL should he continue to display a disregard for his fellow player.
In either case, do you believe Matt Cooke can change?