DALLAS – There’s nothing the NHL is willing to do retroactively to Matt Cooke, but that hasn’t stopped the Ottawa Senators from trying to prove that the Wild winger intentionally sliced defenseman Erik Karlsson’s Achilles’ tendon with his skate blade last February while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and General Manager Bryan Murray presented the team’s “forensic” findings Monday at NHL headquarters in New York.
Melnyk told Sportsnet Radio in Toronto last year that he hired doctors to study footage of the incident.
“I think it was intentional, but you have to be able to prove it,” Melnyk said at the time.
On Tuesday, Cooke called Ottawa’s forensics investigation “really strange.”
“It’s almost a full year ago that it happened,” Cooke said. “I’ve said this from the beginning and I still say it. It was a complete accident.”
Asked if he thought Melnyk should just let it go, Cooke said, “I can’t control it. I learned a long time ago, all I can control is my actions and my words. I try to do that to the best that I can. Other people are going to have judgments. They’re entitled to their own opinions. I can’t tell this guy how to spend his money. He’s entitled to do what he wants.”
In the meantime, Cooke chose to focus on Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Stars. It was the first meeting between the two teams since Stars captain Jamie Benn elbowed Cooke in the face 23 seconds into overtime of Saturday’s Wild victory.
The NHL didn’t discipline Benn because it considered the hit a “protective maneuver.” There are times, the league says, where “defensive contact to the head” is permissible if a player skating with the puck is trying to protect himself from a check.
“I went to go hit him and he had his head down skating through the neutral zone,” Cooke said. “So my conscience got the best of me and I stopped and he’s the one who ended up hitting me. That’s where I think it differs from the video they’ve shown of defensive hits to the head. I wasn’t hitting him. But it’s a fast game. Things happen.”
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher admits it has been challenging juggling the health situations with goalies Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom this season.
Harding has missed 10 consecutive games and 14 of the past 16 games since having a “minor adjustment” to his treatment for multiple sclerosis. Besides a concussion, strained knee and virus, Backstrom has had two injections this month to relieve pain from a “nagging lower-body injury.”
Tuesday in Dallas, Darcy Kuemper made his fifth consecutive start. Johan Gustafsson backed up.
“The bottom line right now is we’ve been able to have somebody playing well at nearly every point this season,” Fletcher said. “In that sense, we’ve been fortunate. We don’t have a lot of games between now and the Olympic break. There’s days between each game, so we feel we can manage the situation.”
The Wild has discussed internally signing free agent Jose Theodore, and there’s little doubt Fletcher has kept an eye on the trade market.
As of now though, Fletcher said, “We’re not going to overreact. Our expectation is Nik will be able to practice Wednesday and participate in our game [against Chicago] Thursday. He’s played really well lately. Josh played very, very well before his situation changed and hopefully he can get back on the ice in the very near future.
“We have a guy [Kuemper] capable of winning hockey games, and with not a lot of games between now and March 1, that’s a lot of time for Hards and Backy to get healthy.”