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 medial collateral ligament in Monday’s playoff game.
It’s the second-longest kneeing suspension in NHL history (Bryan Marchment received eight games for kneeing Kevin Dineen in 1998). If Cooke’s suspension is not fully served this postseason, the remaining games will be served at the beginning of next season.
Cooke, who met with league officials Wednesday afternoon and was accompanied by Wild General Manager 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. Cooke could not be reached for comment, and Fletcher declined to comment.
In a video explanation of its ruling, the NHL said: “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.
“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.”
Even though Cooke had mostly kept it clean the past three years, the league said his history of on-ice transgressions played a role in the severity of the suspension. He previously was suspended five times totaling 20 regular-season games and seven playoffs games, and fined four other times.
Cooke, 35, 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.
“I don’t even know if there’s a place for [Cooke] in this game,” Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said. “It’s disgusting what he’s done to guys’ careers.”
Cooke is most notoriously known for elbowing Boston’s Marc Savard in March 2010. Cooke wasn’t penalized or suspended, but the hit led to the league cracking down harder on blindside head shots.
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 check 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 also has 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.”