Kovacevic: Matt Cooke 1, Ottawa Senators 0
To: Ottawa Senators Hockey Club
From: The Agency representing National Hockey League forward Matt Cooke
As you doubtless are aware, our client can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. At that time, we will entertain offers from 29 of the league's 30 member clubs, including from his current employer, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Your club, we would like to inform you well in advance, will be Mr. Cooke's exception.
As we are confident you will agree, he would make for a terribly poor fit given all that has transpired over the past year, culminating with the events of Friday night in which his team achieved the Eastern Conference final by eliminating yours from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 6-2 Game 5 triumph.
Put bluntly, gentlemen, you are not worth our time.
But please, permit us the courtesy to explain:
On the 13th of February, on the same ice where your season just ended, Mr. Cooke lowered his skate blade into the ankle of Erik Karlsson, your fine defenseman. That unfortunately resulted in Mr. Karlsson missing two months to a severed Achilles' tendon.
We know, of course, that it was indeed unfortunate rather than intentional because, as even a third-grader could see from the replay, our client was facing away from Mr. Karlsson upon contact.
Now, our client is capable of the occasional blind pass — witness his skating around half your franchise to set up Pascal Dupuis' short-handed goal Wednesday — but he does not, in fact, have eyes in the back of his head.
And yet, your general manager, Bryan Murray, cast aspersions on Mr. Cooke's role in the accident after the game. As did your coach, Paul MacLean.
Your owner, Eugene Melnyk, put the tent on the circus days later by broaching NHL etiquette — and common sense — by mimicking this absurdity. He even called our client a “goon” and said he belongs in “the Central League.”
Let the record show that our client never responded with a negative syllable toward the Senators and, in fact, reached out — unrequited — to wish Mr. Karlsson well. The closest Mr. Cooke came to directly addressing the matter was to restate the obvious — it was accidental — and to say: “I wish Erik Karlsson the best.”
Soon after, not content to let it lie, Mr. Melnyk became the laughingstock of the league by declaring he would pay a Toronto forensics firm to study the incident.
Naturally, when asked about that before this series, Mr. Melnyk described the investigation as “still in progress.”
Of course it is. Because the “investigators” haven't had time to “investigate” while splitting their sides laughing.
Look, we as The Agency for NHL forward Matt Cooke fully grasp our client is not without past transgressions. Our group has a well-worn path to Brendan Shanahan's office. But Mr. Cooke not only has learned from those but also has emerged as nothing less than an elite checking winger.
Did you notice the 19 goals he put up last season?
Or the eight in this shortened season?
Or the cut in penalty minutes from annual triple-digits to 80 total the past two seasons?
Or the exemplary penalty-killing on one of the league's premier units?
Or, for that matter, the hustle and hardly-Central-League pass to spring Brenden Morrow's opening goal Friday?
Or the glass-rattling check on Milan Michalek for one of his team-high 46 hits this postseason?
If not, we are guessing you did notice that he has been among Pittsburgh's top forwards throughout the playoffs, even if he has only three assists and still hasn't scored.
Here's how goaltender Tomas Vokoun assessed it: “Cookie's been a big part of this team, but I think he played great all year, to be honest with you. He's been so solid. I can tell you from playing against him, I never realized how good a player he is. Yes, he has a past, his problems and all that. But when he stayed away from that, he's a really good player.”
Here's how teammate Brooks Orpik assessed it: “Cookie's been unbelievable for us, consistent, physical, aggressive … I don't care how many points he's got, he's been outstanding. There's no quit in the guy.”
We call attention to the difference in that latter facet to that of your otherwise esteemed captain, Daniel Alfredsson.
Yet another reason there is no match to be had here.
Matt Cooke never quit, not in these playoffs and not when everyone from the NHL to Mario Lemieux to the local public turned on him. He changed. He took the high road and kept his head held high.
Right to the end. Your end.
This is what our client told reporters after the game Friday: “No, there's no special satisfaction. It's still a freak accident. You know, I felt terrible about it at the time, and I'm just glad that he's back playing.”
Mr. Karlsson, he meant. And yes, they shook hands in the line afterward.
Someone then asked our client why he never barked back: “I don't think there's any benefit. I'm comfortable in knowing what the situation is and how it happened. I've tried to answer as many questions as I could, and I reached out to him. I did what I could.”
You might not think any of the criticism or outright loathing from Canada's capital bothered him, but trust us, away from the cameras and microphones, it did.
And he won't say it, so we will...
Gentlemen, Matt Cooke won.
Your Senators lost.
Run that result by your forensics specialists, and they'll tell you it's case closed.