The Minnesota Wild have been without Matt Cooke for a bulk of their season down the final stretch.
The thirty-six year old NHL veteran had sports hernia surgery in early February, and then missed game one of the Western Conference quarterfinals with yet another injury. The depth forward has been confirmed for the lineup for game two, though, along with undersized winger Jordan Schroeder (who saw his play decline with the addition of Chris Stewart to Minnesota’s roster at the trade deadline).
The addition of Schroeder is fairly non-headline worthy; although the winger’s is looking for a chance to really solidify a role on the team, he doesn’t hold the kind of hot topic pull that Matt Cooke does quite yet.
For Cooke, though, re-entering the lineup is bound to ruffle a few feathers.
The winger, drafted in the sixth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, has become a source of controversy throughout his career for his reckless style of play. He has been characterized for making hits that have a higher likelihood of resulting in serious injury — particularly blind-side hits and checks to the head — and has been suspended for such plays on four separate occasions. He was also the skater who delivered the blind-side hit to Boston Bruins center Marc Savard, which left the veteran skater with post-concussion syndrome and unable to play the remainder of his career (that season alone, he missed nearly two months from the hit) — although Cooke wasn’t suspended for the hit, it was an integral topic when the league implemented stricter rules about blind-side checks.
Although Cooke made a promise to clean up his play following a ten-game suspension for elbowing New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in 2011, though, the forward was suspended again for seven games during the 2014 playoffs. His knee-on-knee hit to Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, although not quite his usual style of blow, left Barrie unable to play for a little over a month and outraged fans that Cooke seemed to be back to his old habits.
Returning to the playoffs following a fairly sparse season for him, Cooke could be a game changer — but if he makes another hit like he did in the previous post-season, it’s likely the suspension could be even weightier.