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Melnyk's ignorance doesn't change facts on Cooke - 02-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

As you may have heard, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk (above) is not a fan of Matt Cooke. In the aftermath of Cooke's hit which resulted in a lacerated left Achille's tendon for all-star Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson Wednesday, Melnyk went on the offensive against Cooke through various Canadian media.

Here is a telephone interview Melnyk granted TSN yesterday:


Five things we take away from this interview:

1.) In reference to the hit Melnyk said, "To have him taken out by a goon is just unconscionable...."

Would Karlsson's injury have been acceptable if it were a result of a hit by Craig Adams, Brandon Sutter or Evgeni Malkin? Or what if sixth defenseman Andre Benoit was hit by Sidney Crosby? Would Benoit's limited value to the Senators elicit the same response?

The names involved in this hit are the root of Melnyk's objection. Karlsson, an outstanding talent, was injured on a hit by Cooke, a player with a well deserved reputation for dangerous play. Melnyk and Cooke's fellow critics aren't looking at the hit objective and seeing it for what it really is: A hockey play with an unfortunate ending.

Bruins coach Claude Julien, hardly a fan of Cooke (right), has looked at the play objectively and reached the same conclusion. Julien, who saw Cooke permanently injury star center Marc Savard three years ago, said, "I certainly didn’t think it was purposefully done, but because it was Matt Cooke that conversation is going to be there.”

There was something to gain from a hockey perspective by what Cooke intended to do. He was trying to pin Karlsson against the boards with his let knee in order to kill off the rest of a penalty. As they rebounded off the boards, Cooke instinctively brought his left leg down to prevent himself from falling. His left skate comes down on the back of Karlsson's ankle and injures him.

It's awful. But not illegal.

Hockey is occasionally a violent game. And most times, that violence occurs withing the legal confines of the game. In this instance, Cooke did not violate any written or unwritten law of the sport.


2.) In assessing Cooke's abilities and and place in the NHL, Melnyk says, "This player should never be playing in this league. These guys are a dime a dozen and that exactly what they're probably worth."

Cooke scored 19 goals last season, 102nd-best in the NHL last season. That's more goals than San Jose's Joe Thornton (18) and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (14), both of whom have won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies as the league's MVP and leading scorer.

Cooke's goal total would have tied him for fourth on the Senators last season along with Karlsson. The only players on the Senators' roster who scored more than Cooke were Milan Michalek (34), Jason Spezza (34) and Daniel Alfredsson (27), all of whom have selected for at least one all-star game during their careers.

The idea that Cooke isn't capable of playing in the NHL and that he has limited value comes across silly if you do a simple summation of his basic statistics.


3.) When asked about Cooke's well documented attempts to change his style of play, Melnyk responded, "I don't buy any of that garbage."

Again, a cursory glance of Cooke's statistics would reveal an attempt by Cooke to limit the dangerous portions of his game. Over the past two seasons, (2011-12 and 2012-13), Cooke has been assessed 62 penalty minutes, 152nd most in the NHL over that span.

Noted "goons" who have recorded more penalty minutes than Cooke include Montreal's Lars Eller (72), Carolina's Alexander Semin (68) and Buffalo's Thomas Vanek (64). Not exactly a line you would see Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies trot out in the 1970s.

Beyond the undeniable statistical reality of Cooke's game, a regular obervation of Cooke and the Penguins would illustrated a change in Cooke. Two years ago, Columbus' Fedor Tyutin ventured into his right wing corner to retrieve a puck with Cooke in chase. This is what happened:

In 2011, Cooke left his feet and blasted Tyutin from behind into the boards without hesitation. Wednesday, Cooke tried to pin Karlsson into the boards.

If Cooke had never changed, we're talking about a head or neck injury for Karlsson, not an Achilles tendon.


4.) Melnyk's critiqued the management of the Penguins by saying, "I'm just shocked that that organization deploys that type of individual."

What's that bit about living in glass houses?

If Melnyk is interested in doing inventories of players with spotty histories with regards to discipline, he could begin with his own franchise. During his tenure as the Senators' owner, the following individuals have received a paycheck from Melnyk:

-Matt Carkner, who jumped the Rangers' Brian Boyle during last year's postseason and threw repeated punches while pinning Boyle to the ice:

-Chris Neil, an indiviual with a well-earned reputation for delivering devastating, but legal head shots.  Buffalo's Chris Drury was dropped with a blow to the head from Neil in the 2006-07 season:

-And Ray Emery, a goaltender who is was far more renown for his willingness to fight than his ability to stop the puck:

-Perhaps the low point of Melnyk's stewardship of the Senators was this game against the Flyers March 5, 2004:

In that game, the Senators and Flyers combined for 419 penalty mintes, most in the history of the 95-year history of the NHL.

You'd be hard-pressed to find any individual in the history of the Senators franchise with a rap sheet as long or damning as Cooke's. But before Melnyk begins to assume the moral high ground, he shouldn't be blind to the fact that he has willfully employed agents of mayhem in his nearly decade-long run as the team's owner.


5.) In reference to Cooke's future, Melnyk says, "People aren't going to put up with him. We're certainly not going to put up with him. You don't go out with a premeditated response to a guy like this. Somebody will do whatever they got to do. He's on a watch list now. Everybody show know it, the referees should know it."

There are a few conflicting messages in that last quote but in some ways that sounds like a veiled threat directed at Cooke, especially the "Somebody will do whatever they got to do" part.

We've heard vague proclamations like this before. After a 3-0 loss to the Penguins which featured a one-side fight between Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson and his Islanders counterpart Rick DiPietro, Feb. 2, 2011, Islanders forward Zenon Konopka, another one-time Senator, talked about "responding" to the Penguins nine days later when the would meet again, Feb. 11.

That response turned out to be one of the darkest days in the history of the sport when the Penguins and Islanders combined for 346 penalty minutes.

It's hard to imagine Melnyk giving a "pep talk" to the Senators about righting a perceived wrong when they next meet the Penguins April 22. But anytime any team official directs language like this at an individual player on another club, it should be cause for concern for the NHL


Melnyk's comments were barely 48 hours removed from Cooke's hit on Karlsson (right). Losing a vital player such as Karlsson can be pretty emotional. And Melnyk is a pretty emotionally invested owner. The only thing deeper that his pockets is his passion for the club. He's a good, responsible owner who has pulled the Senators franchise out of bankruptcy and made it one of the healthiest clubs in the NHL.

Chances are if you talked to Melnyk a week or so later, he'd offer a far more composed response.

In the meantime, we're left his his verbal onslaught against Cooke.

Look, Matt Cooke's actions in his past have justly earned him a life time of vilification. He has ended careers and impacted lives. There's no excusing that.

But that doesn't mean one can ignore facts.

Suggesting Matt Cooke is still a dirty player is akin to suggesting Lance Armstrong is still a clean, honest cyclist. Each premise is accurate if you ignore certain developments.

Cooke can't change the fact that he has been a violent, dangerous player in the NHL. At the same time, Melnyk's ignorance can't change the fact that Cooke is no longer that same player.

(Photos: Melnyk and Karlsson-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Cooke-Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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