The rehabilitation of Matt Cooke from reckless hockey hooligan to upstanding citizen in the NHL has been well-documented, with ESPN and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the latest to pen "Injurious thugs can change!" soliloquies.
But much like the Ottawa Senators' record, everyone is waiting for Cooke's reputation to regress back to its expected norms; looking for that "same old Matt Cooke" moment when he plays on the edge.
On Thursday night against the New York Rangers, word began to spread (mostly through Darren Dreger of TSN) that Cooke slew-footed Brad Richards.
Via Seth Rorabaugh at Empty Netters, the alleged slewing:
We have to imagine the attention this has been given is somehow linked to National Penguin Awareness Day.
Did Cooke use "his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent's feet from under him," as the rule states? Was Richards already falling by the time Cooke went Cobra Kai and swept the leg?
Doesn't matter: Dreger later reported that "Matt Cooke won't face discipline for play on Richards. Should have been a penalty but doesn't qualify as a traditional slew foot."
That answered, the real question: Does Matt Cooke still deserve this level of scrutiny?
Yes, he has a rap sheet longer than Michael Fassbender's body of work. Indeed, he was the catalyst for NHL changes to its own rulebook (Rule 48) and its supplemental discipline process.
But he's also the guy that has 14 penalty minutes in 46 games, with seven minor penalties. That's after 129 PIM in 67 games last season, with 37 minors and five majors.
Outside of Brad Marchand and PK Subban, would this trip on Richards led to scrutiny of many other NHL players? Probably not. Is over half of season of clean play enough to give Cooke the benefit of the doubt? We'd say yes, but we'd also acknowledge that the majority of hockey fans are never going to believe his rehabilitation is real.
Which is why there's only one thing that will validate that the tiger changed his stripes: The Lady Byng Trophy.
It won't be easy. Mainly because he's Matt Cooke. But just like a coach gets more credit for turning around a crap-tastic team in the Jack Adams race, Cooke should get extra credit for going from scurrilous bastard to former scurrilous bastard in the span of a year. Honestly, it's one of the most dramatic bits of image rehab the League's ever seen.
So, with that:
COOKE THE BYNG.
Who's with us? (Provided there isn't, you know a relapse.)
UPDATE: From the NY Daily News: "Brad Richards was not on the ice for Rangers practice Friday morning in Greenburgh because he was 'banged up from the Matt Cooke slew foot,' according to the team."