Matt Cooke’s 100th career playoff game was his last for awhile.
The NHL threw the book at Cooke on Wednesday by suspending the Wild’s physical winger seven games for his knee-on-knee-hit that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie’s left knee in Monday’s playoff game.
If the term of the suspension is not fully served during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the remaining games will be served at the beginning of the 2014-15 regular season.
It is the second-longest suspension in NHL history for kneeing. Bryan Marchment, who made kneeing an artform, got eight games in 1998 for kneeing Kevin Dineen in the regular season.
In the video, the NHL explains that Cooke was leading with his left knee and "After Barrie releases the puck, Cooke continues in this posture, further extends his knee and makes contact with Barrie's left knee. The play is entirely in front of Cooke from the moment he steps on the ice and begins striding toward Barrie well before impact is made."
The video continues, "Seeing Cooke coming at him, Barrie takes evasive action and moves to his right in an attempt to avoid contact. While this evasive action might have worsened the extent of the injury, it should have been entirely predictable to Cooke that Barrie would attempt to avoid contact."
Cooke, who met with league officials Wednesday afternoon with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, has the right to appeal the suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman within 48 hours. If the ruling is upheld, Cooke would then have the right to appeal to a neutral arbitrator within seven days. If he appeals, Cooke cannot play until the appeal is heard and ruled upon.
Barrie is expected to miss four to six weeks.
Even though Cooke had mostly kept it clean the past three years, there is no doubt Cooke’s history of past on-ice transgressions played a giant role in the severity of the suspension.
In the video, it says, "The distance traveled with an extended knee, the further extension of the knee to ensure contact, the force of the impact and the resulting injury to an opponent merit supplemental discipline. These factors, combined with Cooke’s history, warrant a more significant penalty than the most recent suspensions that have been imposed for kneeing."
(Chris Porter got four games, James Neal five, but he kneed a guy in the head)
Cooke had previously been suspended five times for a total of 20 regular-season games and seven playoff games and fined four other times. He had not been suspended since March 2011. In that incident, Cooke, then a Pittsburgh Penguin, elbowed the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and was suspended the final 10 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs, which lasted seven games.
“Everybody’s well-informed about who he is and what he does, it speaks for itself,” Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said this afternoon. “There’s no place for that in the game. Look at the guy he hit, one of our top D, he’s going to be out for the foreseeable future. I don’t even know if there’s a place for [Cooke] in this game. It’s disgusting what he’s done to guys’ careers.”
Cooke’s most notoriously known for his head-shot on the Bruins’ Marc Savard in March 2010. Cooke wasn’t penalized or suspended, but the elbow led to the league cracking down harder on head shots. Savard returned in the 2010 playoffs, but he was limited to 25 games in 2010-11 after suffering another concussion and hasn’t played since.
On and off the ice, Cooke has worked to try to alter his agitating, hard-nosed style since the McDonagh eye-opener. Cooke knew if he didn’t clean up his act, he would be out of the league. So he worked with coaches on the ice and watched video off the ice.
He hasn’t had a major penalty since the McDonagh hit and has cut down his penalty minutes dramatically.
Until the Barrie incident, there were several examples during his first season with the Wild that he was a reformed player.
Cooke had a solid regular season for the Wild, but he was taking his game to a new level in the playoffs. He had an assist in three games, was a big part of the Wild’s 10 for 11 penalty kill and was tied for third in the NHL with 18 hits.
“The way he plays, he gives confidence to the whole team,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’re going to support him whatever happens. Now it’s a chance for somebody else to come into the lineup and do that job for us … in a different way. Obviously you can’t find another Matt Cooke. … We’ll miss him, but at the same time, he’s going to support us, we’ll support him and we’ll move on.”
Coach Mike Yeo has also raved all season about Cooke’s leadership.
“He’s a great player, great guy to have in the room,” center Erik Haula said. “He’s our physical presence out on the ice. We’re just going to have to replace that. Of course, he’ll be missed.”
Koivu said he hasn’t seen the Barrie incident, but “everything happens fast. We’ve seen those hits before. We will see them in the future. No one’s trying to do that, but it’s hockey. It happens very fast and you’re trying to be physical.”
On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.